Sonia Tilley-Strobel by Amy Duquette
Sonia Tilley-Strobel is always smiling. Coming to her interview straight from completing a run on the indoor track at the Park Slope YMCA, she had an exceptionally big smile on her face and she did not look winded or tired in the least. On the contrary, she looked bright, strong, healthy...and noticeably pregnant. Six and a half months pregnant to be exact. Aside from a relatively short period when she was five weeks into her first trimester, Sonia has been running consistently throughout her pregnancy. She strongly believes this is the reason why she feels "great" and it’s also probably why her smile is so radiant today.
But, even though Sonia’s current smile may be attributed to running and her pregnancy, these things were not always high on her life’s agenda. Sonia did not always want to have a baby. It wasn’t until age 30 when she realized that she could do it "my own way" and had a change of heart. And although she has always been athletic, she was not always a devout runner either.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, from a young age Sonia’s parents modeled an active lifestyle of sports for her and her siblings and always in a non-competitive frame of mind. Sonia did some running in middle school, meeting the teacher/coach for early morning runs before school started, but she really took a liking to cross-country skiing in high school and stayed with it beyond school days. She joined a cross-country ski club in Canada and valued the support it provided to help her reach her personal best. Sonia would later move to New York City where cross-country skiing was not as readily accessible as it is in Vancouver. She began to search for something to replace her favorite physical outlet.
Both Sonia and her husband, who are middle and high school teachers, were recruited to the United States by the New York Department of Education. In 2004 they accepted an offer to move to Brooklyn in order to bring their skills to a high school in need. It was at her school in Brooklyn where Sonia met another PPTC’er, Lauren Davenport. Lauren encouraged Sonia to do a loop of Prospect Park with her after work. "I had been non-active for a while," Sonia said, "and at first I thought I may not be able to keep up. But I shortly realized I had nothing to worry about." The daily loop provided a huge emotional release and this is what Sonia thinks "...got me through that first year of teaching in NYC. It is so easy for teachers to bring home stress. We found that the first half of the loop was spent bitching about the job, but then we seemed to sweat it all out and the conversation switched. We had purged the school day with the run and it helped us draw the line between work and home."
Sonia discovered the PPTC in March 2006 at the end of the Brooklyn Half Marathon where a volunteer was handing out pamphlets with information about the club. It immediately sparked her interest. She was pleased to find that "this club is not about taking your money and giving you little in return," but fit the same model of support that her old cross-country ski club provided. She still thinks the Brooklyn Half Marathon is the best course she’s ever run. "It’s our turf. We start at Coney Island, which feels like the beginning of the Earth and then we run ‘home’ to our park. It’s great."
Fast forward two years after that half marathon and we find that Sonia has been a PPTC member and running and racing for the club ever since. Being a pregnant runner certainly causes a few people to take a second look at her while jogging, but she has found mainly positive responses as the glances usual turn to smiles. She attributes the Park Slope area specifically to being a healthy, active environment that supports active mothers and families. Her story helps to break the many negative stigmas and falsehoods that society has built up around pregnancy in general. The stereotypical image of an uncomfortable woman unable to move from the couch and in constant pain is not what we see when we look at Sonia. Of course, she admits, that there are some complications and special circumstances that some women face and she has been lucky enough to not have to deal with. She attributes this less to luck and more to her conscious decision to take the nine months under her own control. "If there was any time in my life that I should be training and exercising it is now, during pregnancy. I am about to ask my body to do a lot when I give birth, so I see this as a way to prepare for it, just like you do with a marathon. All these miles I am running (while pregnant) will help me build endurance for labor. This is not a time for me to put my feet up. It is a time for me to eat well, sleep enough, and stay healthy." Furthermore, she believes that the endorphins and serotonin that is being released in her body and the incredible sense of positivity she feels from being able to run will certainly rub off on the baby. "Anxiety creates tension and tension creates pain" which she believes to be the case for both the mother and the baby.
Sonia has been easing any possible anxiety by running three to four times a week, but also rounding it out with a little weight-lifting, some yoga for moms-to-be and Tai Chi. Sure, the running she does has changed. "Well...it’s harder. In the first three months I felt like I was running in the worst shape I’ve ever been in. I slowed way down and got out of breath quickly." But that has changed and it has become easier since she has moved further along in her pregnancy. "Now, I go based on how I feel, not for a set amount of miles or time. My body is very clear now when I need to stop. Then I’ll walk a little until I’m ready to run again. I get more energy from running. It feeds itself."
Sonia has run four races since becoming pregnant, including the Staten Island Half at a (not very "slow") 9:44 pace, The four-mile ‘Race to Deliver’ and the PPTC Turkey Trot. "I am thinking about turning those race Tees into baby shirts for the baby because he ran them too!" It is her goal to run through all nine months in order to make coming back to her training easier. She plans on running her first full marathon in 2008, exactly six months after delivering. "Stepping into motherhood does not have to mean losing who you are as an individual," she believes. Since moving to the US and becoming a Brooklynite, a PPTC’er, along with continuing her status as athlete and high school art teacher it is clear that Sonia can fully claim the title of ‘runner’ to her roster of dynamics. In May of 2008, she will also add "mother", and this little baby boy has a great role model anxiously waiting his arrival.