Meet Sasha Wolff: mental health warrior, marathon runner and community builder.

Q&A with the founder of Still I Run; a community of runners for mental health.

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Late in 2019 Hylands approached SOLE to see if we'd like to get involved in sponsoring their team of Community Builders set to run the 2020 Boston Marathon. When we saw the list of people we'd be supporting we jumped at the opportunity to send them footbeds and supportive Sport Slides to help them through their marathon journey. Hylands assembled a squad of truly inspirational people, working in different capacities for different causes. All of them had one thing in common: giving their all for the betterment of a community. The Boston Marathon should have been run in April, but coronavirus had other plans. In the end, the race will happen virtually in the second week of September. Over the coming weeks we'll be sharing the stories of four of the inspirational community builders on the Hylands team, starting with Sasha Wolff. Sasha is the founder of Still I Run, an online community that focuses on mental health awareness and the related benefits of running. 

The Lightest Tread (TLT): Tell us who you are, where you’re from and a little bit about yourself.

Sasha Wolff (SW): I'm Sasha Wolff, a wife, mom of two little girls, and avid mental health warrior living in Hudsonville, Michigan (right outside of Grand Rapids). In addition to running my own non-profit, I work in global internal communications for Herman Miller Group.

TLT: Why do you run? 

SW: After being hospitalized for depression and anxiety in 2011, I was encouraged to find a healthy habit to help with my mental health condition. Shortly after being discharged from the hospital, I saw a neglected pair of running shoes in the corner of my bedroom and decided to just go for a walk. That walk changed me somehow because even though I didn't feel miraculously better, it lifted my spirits. The next day I took a longer walk. The day after that, I plodded along. Eventually I started believing in the whole "running for mental health thing" I'd heard about. I haven't stopped running for my mental health since!

It's kind of like a light-bulb moment in that people go "Hmmm... yea...  I guess I DO bike, run, swim for my own mental health. I didn't realize others did as well"

TLT: Tell us a bit about Still I Run. 

SW: Still I Run - Runners for Mental Health Awareness is the country's only mental health and running community. We're a non-profit that seeks to defeat the stigma of mental health through running while also promoting the benefits of running for mental health. We have ambassadors around the country, are working on a nationwide run chapter program, have apparel at our store, do virtual races (we have one coming up in October), have a peer to peer letter writing campaign where we write letters of encouragement, and have an awesome program called the Starting Line Scholarship. The scholarship is a program aimed at helping people who may be low income, or having a hard time, get the tools necessary to start running for their own mental health. 

TLT: What inspired you to start the community? 

SW: When I pieced together that running for my mental health was working for me, I immediately wanted to connect with others who did the same thing. I knew I couldn't be alone in this, so I went online and tried search for a group of individuals to connect with. I looked for FOUR years and couldn't find a thing.... so I figured.... why not start a group myself! I launched Still I Run with a crappy website and Facebook page on World Mental Health Day (October 10) in 2016. I thought only my friends and family would appreciate it, but now we have a social media following that's around the world.

TLT: What is it about running in particular that makes it an effective tool, or the right platform for Still I Run? 

SW: Not only has running been scientifically proven to increase serotonin in our brains, but there's a sense of accomplishment that goes along with it. Running is HARD and only a small population of people do it. The fact that I can have a mental health condition that makes life difficult, yet still get out of bed and RUN, makes me feel like a warrior. No matter what I'm going through in life, Still I RUN. It's become a mantra for us. We have people that say "oh, I can't be a part of this group because I don't run" and I respond "yes you can!! If you bike, yoga, hike, climb.... you're helping your mental health! We don't care what activity you partake in so long as you're getting out there and moving!" 

TLT: We hear a lot about the negative influence of social media on people’s mental health. Do you think there’s more potential for using it for good than people realize? 

SW: Oh man... ha! I have a love hate relationship with social media. It's filled with so much darkness and negativity and it definitely increases my own anxiety. Still I Run wouldn't be able to exist without social media though. Social media gives us the ability to have this amazing virtual community that's spread out across the globe. I think social media can be used for good so long as we focus on the good. I've had many people this year tell me they don't use social media anymore, but they've bookmarked our private Facebook group just so they can see all the inspiring stuff we're talking about and connect with others who feel the same.

TLT: What has the response to Still I Run been like? 

SW: Even though Still I Run has been around for close to 4 years, I'm still surprised at how people react to our community. The support and response is so positive and I think its because so many of us out there run (or exercise) for our mental health, but didn't really put two and two together until Still I Run came around. It's kind of like a light-bulb moment in that people go "Hmmm... yea...  I guess I DO bike, run, swim for my own mental health. I didn't realize others did as well" and then from that realization they want to connect with the others who do the same.

TLT: This year has been a particularly difficult one for many. Does Still I Run have a special importance in tough times when people are facing bigger-than-usual challenges to their mental health? 

SW: AbsoLUTELY! That's one of the big reasons we're doing a virtual run in October. We want to rally the collective community around this idea that running for mental health is beneficial. It's so important us that we get out the word that people aren't alone. We're also working hard and being present on social media and adding more light and goodness into the conversations happening out there.

TLT: How can people get involved with Still I Run and are there any prerequisites? Can anyone join in? 

SW: Absolutely ANYONE can join. We're a community that encourages people of all backgrounds, colors, creeds, and speeds. You can be a part of the community by joining our private Facebook group, grab a piece of gear from our store (all proceeds go back to Still I Run), join in one of our virtual challenges, apply to be an ambassador, become a volunteer, OR join one of our run chapters once we launch that program.

TLT: Are you planning on participating in the virtual race for the Boston Marathon? How do you get yourself pumped up to run a marathon on your own?

SW: I will be virtually racing the Boston Marathon! I'm getting myself pumped up a few different ways. The first is with a running playlist to keep me going the whole time!!! I also am planning my run outfit which includes painting my nails Hyland's orange, wearing my Hyland's tank and hat. I'll have a pair of Still I Run shorts on and also a I Run for Mental Health race bib from Still I Run. The coolest thing I'll be doing though is planning a route and then sharing it with friends and family. I have people that want to run a few miles of the race with me so I'll always have someone by my side cheering me on.

TLT: Do you have a plan for recreating the race-day adrenaline? 

SW: I'm not sure there is a way to recreate a Boston Marathon level race-day adrenaline, but I know I'll just have adrenaline coursing through my veins anyway because I'm running 26.2 miles! That's a super-human feat in my mind! Plus, I'll be working for that unicorn medal, which is SUPER exciting no matter how you look at it!

Sasha finishing her first Marathon.