Middle-aged mums reclaim their mojo

By Vicki Woolley

Women are turning to sport to make healthy life changes as the demands of children and work diminish.
Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) lessons and yoga classes are available at registration for the three-day event in Rotorua.
Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) lessons and yoga classes are available at registration for the three-day event in Rotorua.

All over New Zealand MAMs - middle-aged mothers - are on a journey of rediscovery.

As children become independent and work commitments manageable, the number of women participating in sport as a way to regain fitness of mind and body is increasing, sometimes with dramatic and permanent changes.

Tiare Murray, Dana Abbott, Juliana Lynch and Cherie Semeri have been "besties" for two decades.

"We did everything together before having children in our mid-20s: played sport and partied five days a week - thought we had the best dance moves at the clubs, which makes us laugh now," Murray says.

"Over the years, the focus shifted to kids and work. Now there is a chance for us to rediscover ourselves as individuals and friends, create new journeys together and get our own little flames rekindled."

Many women seeking to redefine themselves as they return to sport will battle recognisable modern-world challenges. Murray committed to giving up smoking on New Year's Eve; two other besties are coping with recent divorces and most are working hard on weight control.

Murray signed up her group for the Spirited Women Adventure Race, despite having no experience in three of the four disciplines it comprises.

"When we signed up for the event, none of us had ever been on a paddleboard. We hadn't been on mountain bikes, nor done any orienteering. We just wanted to push our boundaries."

Team Besties are exactly the kind of women event organiser Neil Gellatly wanted to see at the maiden Spirited Women Adventure Race.

"We are less focused on bringing women to New Zealand and more about looking after our Kiwi women - building their confidence in the surrounds of their friends, improving their mental and physical health.

"For New Zealand to be a healthy nation, we need to have a healthy population. This event defines the spirit of a Kiwi woman - her give-it-a-go attitude, sense of adventure and strong belief in her girlfriends."

The event is in Rotorua on April 1-3. Teams may choose from three course distance options with running or walking, SUP and mountain biking interspersed with mystery activities. The activities and exact course location remain secret until event day, said Gellatly.

"We've had great support in all areas leading up to the delivery in our home town of Rotorua this year. But next year, a new town will benefit from the event ... who? We'll keep you guessing a little longer."

The majority of participants are making a girls' weekend of it. There are SUP lessons and yoga classes available on Friday at registration, complimentary bubbles for those crossing the finish line and a session at the Blue Baths on Sunday is included in the entry fee.

Another Spirited Women team committed to positive and permanent lifestyle change is the Mangawhai Gritty Gals: Kylie McLaughlin, Louise Forward, Megan Hale and Stacey McCormick. McLaughlin confesses that three out of five training group members have battled obesity, along with other issues.

"One is recently divorced, another hasn't been on a bike since she was a child. I have balance issues, so had to buy my own SUP so I could practise. I don't want to let everyone down," she laughs. "We signed up and then wondered how we would cope with the orienteering - we struggle to read road maps."

Undaunted, Mangawhai Gritty Gals have taken mountain bike and SUP lessons and completed a running workshop with James Kuegler.

"You've only got one life - we just want to get out there and do it."

Murray believes Spirited Women is just the beginning for the besties.

"We all feel so happy. Yes, we are still there for our families, but we are allowing ourselves to enjoy life, too.

"Already two of us have been motivated to sign up for the Hutt Half in June and the Half Iron Maori in December. It's about finding something you like the look of and committing to it, even if it's a 5km walk. Physically take the step of registering - start small and follow through."

McLaughlin agrees.

"You have to find that little switch in your head, flick it, and start making small changes. And it's good for our kids, they feed off our health and vitality - we want to chase our kids around, not sit and watch them play."

Spirited Women
What: All-women adventure race
When: April 1-3
Where: Rotorua
For more information: www.spiritedwomen.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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