In our final installation of Black History Month: Celebrating SAS Athletes, please welcome Ursula Polo, Technical Support Analyst, and lifetime runner. Ursula started running in high school on her school’s track and field team where she competed in the 100- and 200-yard dashes, hurdles, and the long and triple jump events. She wasn’t on the track team in college, so she ran for exercise.
“I’ve always enjoyed exercise. That just keeps me going. My running has matured over the years. I used to run in a sweatshirt and shorts. The girlfriend I was running with gave me for Christmas a nice running shirt with a sports bra, and some nice running shorts. She just knew I loved running and I took it in the spirit. Now I have lots of running clothes so I can run in all types of weather – whether it’s hot or cold – and I change my running shoes often. It’s a hobby for me. My family has bought into my hobby and they often give me running gifts.
“Running is a stress reliever for me. It calms me and puts me at peace. It’s just me, my music and the pavement.”
You mentioned music. Do you run with music every time or do you mix it up?
“I run with music every time, but I mix up what I listen to. Sometimes I run to Janet Jackson which will really get me going or JLo or hard-core rap and push it hard. Other times, I listen to gospel and thank God for the opportunity to be out here running.
“My husband is the one who bought me my first iPod because I didn’t run with music at first. I wasn’t so sure about it. I run with my iPhone and wireless headphones. It’s wonderful.”
Do you race?
“I first started racing with my sorority sisters. We ran the Race for the Cure. It’s near Meredith College which is very hilly, and I wondered if I could run the entire course. I set that goal and I accomplishment it.
“My next goal was to see if I could run a 5K in under 30 minutes? That’s what started my racing journey. I started with 5Ks, went on to 10Ks, and then moved on to half marathons.
“After I had my son, with the support of my family, I’d get up on Saturdays and run or race. I wanted to get back to running like I could before my pregnancy. I decided to do a full marathon. My husband supported me to get up and train. During the marathon my family was looking for me because they heard someone needed medical attention and they were concerned. My uncle eventually found me. He had on his suit because he had just come from church. He ran the rest of the race with me and it was a great experience.
“Marathon training enabled me to meet so many people. There’s a group called Black Girls Run (BGR). The goal of BGR is to encourage and motivate black women to practice a healthy lifestyle.. There are multiple groups throughout the city and country. I ran with BGR when we lived in Durham. They met at 5:30 in the afternoon and I’d run with them to get some miles in. We later moved and I found a Cary BGR group that meets at 5:00 in the morning. I ran with some of my sorority sisters and some SAS employees. I was meeting so many people from different backgrounds who love to run like me.
“I had heard that black women were at the end of the totem pole as far as running goes, but actually there are several who run. I met so many of them in these groups. I developed relationships with these runners and enjoyed getting together post events for drinks and to talk just about running.
“After the marathon, I thought I’d be one and done, but I want to improve my time. Marathon training is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. I’ve done smaller races since the marathon. I like to run an hour-ish. I do have a race coming up in May in West Virginia. It’s a 5K and the place looks beautiful. I was supposed to do it in 2020, but because of COVID, it was deferred to 2021. They didn’t give a refund, only a credit so I figured, I’ve already paid so I’ll do it.”
There are so many credits and deferrals from last year.
Favorite race distance?
“Anything between a 5K and 10K. I like to make time goals. Let me see if I can run 4 miles in under 40 minutes. I like to play these time games.”
What is the 1 thing you have to have to go on a run?
“My music. When I just need a break, I put on my running clothes, grab my iPhone and headphones and let my husband know I’m headed out for a quick 5K.”
Is running a family thing?
“No, they don’t run but they support me. My husband is from Kenya, Africa. He’s supposed to be a runner but running is not his thing. He runs up and down the soccer field and basketball court. They support me in any race that I want to do. Anytime I say that I am about to go for a run, they say ok, see you later, bye.”
Ursula’s husband, Paul, came to the US from Kenya when he was 19 to attend NC Central University. Paul is also a SAS Employee. Kenyans are known to be the best long-distance runners on earth.
What’s Paul’s experience with running?
“He did not run growing up. In fact, there’s a tribe where most of the runners originate. He is not part of that tribe. He did complete one of his first 5Ks at SAS at our annual 5K celebrating Global Employee Health and Fitness Month with his team. I was there at the finish line to cheer him on.”
What tips would your share with a friend who wanted to start running?
“Try it. Don’t try to do a 5K right off. Do a combination of running and walking for a mile or so and slowly increase it. That’s what I did with Paul. He had surgery on his knees, and he didn’t go back to playing basketball right away, but his PT and doctor wanted him to do some physical activity so we started walking and gradually started doing a combo of run/walk.
Will you talk more about Black Girls Run or other resources or groups you’d share with a friend to help them get started with running?
“A girlfriend of mine noticed on the black girls run group on Facebook that someone at SAS was looking for a running partner and that’s how I met April. We met up for lunch and ran together a few times. It was one of those relationships I didn’t know was out there and we both have a love for running. Running has brought me so many of those relationships.
“Here at SAS I’ve met so many people through running. We would run sprints and suicides through Umstead Park – across the interstate from the Cary HQ Campus. It was great. My husband has been here (at SAS) for 21 years so everyone I met knew me as Paul’s wife. After I met more runners, one of them went up to my husband and said, “Oh you’re Ursula’s husband!” That made me laugh."
Ursula is motivated to stay active and healthy for her son.
“I want to make sure I am living to educate my son. There is so much to teach him. I want to be around, so I have that opportunity. Also, I want him to see me being active and healthy so he can practice these habits when he’s an adult. Then in turn, he can teach his children. This is Black History Month, but it is also National Heart Health Month. A few weeks ago we celebrated “Go Red for Women” and I saw this statistic on the Go Red for Women.org website:
Of African American women ages 20 and older, 49 percent have heart diseases.
“I just don’t want to be a part of that statistic.
“Staying active is difficult during this time (during the pandemic) because it’s so easy to just stay at your computer 24-7. I think it’s great to give yourself that break to do something you want to do. So many people say “oh, I wish I could do that.” Well you can, just start. Or, “I with I could’ve done this.” You can; it’s never too late to start. You can run at any age or any fitness level. Start and build up (your mileage) slowly.”
Ursula wants to continue to run for the rest of her life. In fact, when she retires, her goal is to race 5Ks and get 80-minute massages.
“That would be my perfect world.”
Thank you Ursula, Carla, and April for sharing your journey as athletes over the last couple days! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading their stories in our Black History Month: Celebrating SAS Athletes series. What’s your sport? Do you have a resource that could help someone get started? Share below and then be sure to share this blog series with someone who may be inspired by these athletes!