In Patricia Fowler’s running journey, one of the most important things she has learned is that even solo athletes need a community, and even the strongest women can benefit from a sisterhood of support.
Recently, one of Patricia Fowler’s longtime friends asked her about “all this running” she’d been doing, and wondered why she hadn’t been on the track team of their East Cleveland junior high or high school.
“I was the girl who walked the mile with a friend and talked the whole time in gym class,” Tricia says. “I was, and still am, a nerd. Yeah, I was that girl.”
And while Tricia was an active kid who loved watching football, she was encouraged to pursue academics rather than sports. Her relationship with running didn’t begin until later, when she was in her early forties and in need of a change.
“I was unemployed, having left a miserable job, overweight and unhappy,” she says. “I thought if I trained hard, pushed my body and did something good for others, I would feel better.”
She signed up for the San Diego Rock n Roll half marathon in 2010 as part of a team running to raise funds for a nonprofit organization.
“I raised a lot of money and finished my first race ever,” she says. “But my experience wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. I didn’t feel seen or a part of the group. I didn’t make lifelong friends, as some participants tell me they’ve done.”
Nonetheless, the race sparked in Tricia the realization that she liked running. She appreciated the time for herself that training offered and the sense of accomplishment when she crossed a finish line.
She joined several running groups, only to feel like an outsider with many of them. As a new runner, she didn’t know all the right terms or the best gear. Fortunately, she found Black Girls Run in Los Angeles.
“They were super welcoming,” she says. “There were girls who said, ‘It’s okay, I’ll run your pace’ and ‘If you’re not gonna show up, tell someone because we’re going to wait for you.’”
Tricia felt accepted and valued — and like a runner, no matter how new she was to the sport or how fast she was.
The next game changer was at the 2018 Zooma half marathon in Lost Pines, set at a golf resort in the hill country of Central Texas — not far from Austin, where she lives with her husband and daughter and works as a project manager for an education nonprofit. Tricia hadn’t trained as much as she should have, and mentally she wasn’t dialed in on race day.
“I remember being at the start line and thinking, if it sucks enough, I’ll just do the 10K. Half paying attention, I heard the announcement that Mel and Tori from Fellow Flowers were here and what an amazing organization they are. I was interested because I knew I was lacking motivation, a spark. I was longing for community.”
The race itself was a challenge — what Tricia often calls her “best worst race” — and she struggled to finish. “But I learned a lot about myself as a runner and what I need to do to be prepared. And I’m grateful that it lead me to Fellow Flowers,” she says.
After the race, Tricia checked out Fellow Flowers and joined the FFCrew, where she found the sisterhood she’d been craving.
“With Fellow Flowers, it felt like people wanted my story,” she says. “It’s about being seen, and it’s about more than running. I thought, these are my people.”
Tricia started with the Rock Star and No Excuses flowers — since black and purple are her favorite colors — but has expanded to a bigger collection of inspirations.
“Now when I run, I try not to pick a flower,” she says. “I reach into my bag and let the flower pick me.”
While sometimes she questions the color that ends up in her hand, she tries to manifest its meaning but not force it. When, for instance, the yellow flower chooses her, she thinks about what joy means and feels like to her in this moment, instead of insisting every step of her run be joyful.
But no matter the flower she wears, running always provides essential time alone, whether running a race — she has done five half marathons and “countless 5Ks and 10Ks, with a few 8Ks and 15Ks thrown in for fun” — or hitting the trails near her home.
“Running is me time,” Tricia says. “I clear my head, clear my thoughts, think things through. Sometimes I run early on because I know it’s going to be a hell of a day. Other times, I think, it’s been a crazy week and I need to burn off some crazy. Sometimes I need to work out something, and by just running and not thinking about it, something becomes clear. Sometimes I let it go and leave it on the trail.”
And sometimes, running helps the dam break.
“Back in May, after George Floyd’s murder, I was half a block from my house listening to Phil Collins of all things, when all of a sudden, I started sobbing,” she says. “Even though I was functioning and getting through my days as a mom, a wife and a project manager, I was suppressing my emotions. I had stuffed it all down. Running — any movement, actually — tends to open me up. Sometimes it just hits you and that clarity happens.”
While Tricia believes those head-clearing and emotional-breakthrough benefits of running would have helped her in her twenties and thirties, she doesn’t necessarily wish her younger self had been a runner.
“I don’t know if I would have encouraged teenage me to run that mile in gym,” she says. “Nah, go hang out with your friends.”
Fortunately today, in the athlete she’s become and the communities she’s found since, Tricia can have both the running and the camaraderie.
– Katie Vaughn
#HerWholeStory is a series produced by Fellow Flowers inspired by the idea that every woman is a story worth telling and celebrates each women’s journey in running and movement.