In 2015, Meredith Sargent and Jody Walters were both struggling and unhappy. The two women — separated by 150 miles and a state line — didn’t know each other, but they were about to learn the power of friendship and motivation through the simple act of running.
Meredith Sargent was exhausted, burned out and unhappy at the end of her 2015 school year. The Greenville, South Carolina-based high school teacher knew she needed to make a change, and “I knew it needed to start with me,” she says.
She decided to start running and chose an eight week “Couch-to-5K” training plan with MapMyRun. This was where her journey to happiness, friendship and a better life began.
“It took me about 14 weeks [to finish the eight-week program],” she laughs, “because I would just keep doing a week over until I could complete it.” In December 2015, Sargent finished her first 5K and quickly followed it up with a 10K trail race a few months later. It was official: She had become a runner.
She continued using MapMyRun to improve her running and loved the small challenges within the app. In early 2016, she became even more inspired when she saw the “You Vs. The Year” Challenge, which encouraged athletes to run at least 1,000 kilometers throughout the year.
“I joined right after my run on New Year’s Day because I knew it would make me stay consistent,” she recalls. Because she was new to the sport, busy with work and raising three children, Sargent often ran alone. She found the support and encouragement she needed when she joined the You Vs. The Year Facebook group. With a simple click of the mouse, she was on her way to a new life and a fruitful friendship.
About 150 miles away, Jody Walters was also struggling. After a recent divorce, two miscarriages and the death of her mother, she turned to running as a way to cope.
Walters was a regular runner several years before as a member of Team in Training, raising money in support of her mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. When her mother passed away just one month before her first event, Walters and her teammates decided to run in memory of her mom’s life, all wearing her photo on their shirts. It wasn’t until 2016, though, that the New Zealand native — now living outside Atlanta — was ready to refocus on herself and her running. Like Sargent, Walters discovered the You Vs. The Year Challenge and joined the Facebook group.
Soon, the two women connected serendipitously on a You Vs. The Year team, named “Flight of the Kiwi” (aka Team FoKers). While it was a natural for Walters to join a team started by a fellow New Zealander, Sargent simply thought the name was hilarious and knew she would have a great time with this team of supporters and online friends.
In the summer of 2016, Sargent shared her recent personal struggles on the group page. Feeling personally touched by her writing, Walters reached out to Sargent with the simple offer to “call me anytime.” Little did she know this gesture would have a lasting impact on the lives of both women.
LOYAL FRIENDS AND TEAMMATES
Sargent and Walters, separated by three hours driving distance, became fast friends and cheerleaders for one another. Their first in-person meeting came when Walters and her sister were passing through South Carolina. As Walters’ November birthday approached, Sargent, knowing the day wasn’t a favorite for her friend, offered to drive to Atlanta and spend the day with Walters. They shared a great weekend of wine, puzzles, conversation and (of course) running.
And the support went both ways. As Sargent trained for her first full marathon (the Rock-n-Roll Marathon in Washington, D.C.), she was anxious about having to run 18 miles for the first time. When Walters offered to run those miles with her, Sargent gladly accepted and drove three hours through treacherous weather to spend the weekend with her friend — running and enjoying each other’s company. When Sargent’s 20-miler came around, Walters made the drive to South Carolina, proving once again, that running and friendships have no distance barriers.
RUNNING TOWARD A BETTER LIFE
Relying on their mutual support and encouragement, the women have been reinvigorated by running on many levels. “Running has brought me peace and comfort with the miscarriages and the loss of my mom,” Walters says. “Often when I’m running, I’ll imagine all three of them together looking down on me and smiling.” Instead of running away from the lingering pain, the sport has helped to create a deeper connection with her lost loved ones.
Sargent, too, is deeply grateful for her new outlook and perspective. “I was just at such a low point and, at first, running helped me escape the things I didn’t want to face,” she recalls. “But then it helped me find the strength to face those things and know that I had it in me to overcome them.” Her new friendship, improved attitude and 30-pound weight loss are a testament to that newfound strength.
Sargent calls Walters her quiet hero. “It’s a beautiful thing to have someone run with you just to give their support,” she says. “There’s no ego, no competition … just kindness, friendship and support.”
Walters is equally grateful, especially knowing they’ve helped each other heal and grow through the miles. “We know we’ll be there for each other in a heartbeat,” she says. “Meredith truly inspires me.”
What compelled these women to drive more than three hours across state lines to log double-digit miles with someone they barely knew? It comes down to peeling back layers of pain and loss to discover two new people underneath. If their enthusiasm for running is any indication, they’ll be there, together, for many more miles.