The first thing Trudy Johnson said to me when she walked into Coffea was, “We have a mutual friend.”
In the world of social media – and a town that still feels as small as Sioux Falls can sometimes – I was hesitant. “Who is it,” I asked.
“And I bet neither of us has met her before,” she continued.
It turns out that we both know a woman named Sue who lives in Denver. I know Sue from posting on a series of running forums a decade ago. Trudy knows Sue from parenting forums. They’ve never met, but I ran with Sue in Denver in a marathon relay once, and in the years since she’s helped with different projects and professional questions (she’s in publishing).
But that’s how it works now – talking to someone online and developing a friendship through mutual passions isn’t unusual. It’s just another way to make a connection. In our local running community, it’s become even more common.
That’s where Trudy, 39, and Maggie Fitzgibbons, 27, met – through the postings and musings of the many women who are part of the Sioux Falls Women Run Facebook group.
Maggie began running in high school, competing in cross-country. In college, she had ovarian cancer and says that running became her therapy. A few years later, she moved to Toronto and set a goal for herself of running a marathon – a new town, not many new friends and time on her hands left enough room to train, so that’s what she did.
“It was four years after my surgery, and I started with all this depression and emotion, and being able to run that marathon closed that chapter in my life,” Maggie says. “Ever since then, I do it because I love it. I don’t actually love the act of running, but I love the way it feels when you’re done.”
This is where Trudy chimes in: “That’s what makes it easier, you meet a friend and you start talking, and before you know it, it’s 5 miles.”
The two devolve into a conversation about a morning run where their faces were freezing, where they were so covered up with balaclavas and windbreakers and tights they were barely recognizable. They weren’t always these women, waking up at 5 a.m. to meet each other on the west side.
For Trudy, it began with a dog walk. She describes herself as obese a few years ago, and then began to take her health seriously. “Three years ago, I could barely walk, my feet hurt so bad.”
She lost 115 pounds, and challenged herself with push-ups, sharing her progress on Facebook. After that, a friend suggested she try running, but Trudy didn’t take it seriously.
Until she did. It was Aug. 27, 2016, and while walking her dog, she began to run, and told herself to just go one more block. She did – and ran 3 miles.
“I felt amazing,” Trudy says. “When I saw my friend, I was like ‘you’ll never guess what I did.’”
Her friend added her to the Sioux Falls Women Run group, which Maggie was a member of. They met about six months ago, on a group run.
“I was so nervous,” Trudy says. “I had headphones in, I didn’t know. I thought we were all a trail of ants and just ran and didn’t talk, and then Maggie was like, ‘hi, how’s it going.’”
They discovered they both were from Harrisburg and had a lot in common. Still, Maggie didn’t feel connected to the group.
“One night Trudy called me, and I missed her call, and I told my husband Kevin, ‘Trudy called me, I think I have my first running friend,’” Maggie says with a laugh. “I was so excited, and now we talk ever since.”
This is how a friendship begins. And in the early mornings, as they rack up the miles while Trudy continues her goal of a race a month – the next one is the Fargo half-marathon – and Maggie just builds a base. They help each other – Maggie pushes Trudy on the pace sometimes, and Trudy keeps Maggie accountable.
“So many days I don’t want to go, but I know I won’t bail if Trudy is waiting,” Maggie says. “Maybe she hasn’t pushed me on time, but there were many days I wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for her. And she’s pushed me on the distance.”
The two of them credit Sioux Falls Women Run and the community there and the many west-side women runners with keeping them motivated.
“One day I saw this group of women running, and said I wanted to be part of that group,” Maggie says. Trudy felt the same way. “You don’t have to go alone anymore. The west side has a morning run every day of the week.”
They laugh as they talk about how they met and how they saw themselves begin to change.
“I’ve really enjoyed this process of upping mileage and not having a race,” Maggie says. “I’m doing this because my body can, because my body can do this.”
“I’m proud of myself,” Trudy says. “I feel like I can handle stress better now that I run.”
They high-five over the table, and you can tell they’re not only proud of themselves, but they’re proud of each other. It’s a feeling built every morning, every mile and every moment they spend together, helping set a goal and meet it, choose a healthy lifestyle and become it.
This is what friendship looks like.
Name: Maggie Fitzgibbons
Works: Financial advisor for Edward Jones
Name: Trudy Johnson
Works: Special education teacher at Roosevelt High School
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at email@example.com. Story ideas are encouraged