Coming Full Circle

My last entry was about the Big Sur Marathon Relay, and probably one of the most momentous races in my life. Not only because of the incredible scenery, but because of the experience I had overall running on a team, with my team for charity. It was the only time after finishing 9.5 hilly, canted miles did I wish I could keep running. I envied the excitement and of the full marathoners. I wanted that same sense of accomplishment. Subconsciously, I was planning my first 26.2. I knew it last year, when I was spectating the 2015 Chicago Marathon, that after turning 40 in February of this year, it would be high time for me to finally run the full distance. I was always the person who would talk anyone out of doing a marathon. “It’s bad for your health”, I would say. “There’s no fitness benefit”, I would add. But secretly I knew the jig was up, and if ever I would run a marathon, it had to be in Chicago and for Every Mother Counts.

I secured my charity bib and did not tell a single person until after Ramadan ended in the beginning of July. The marathon lottery came and went and I didn’t say a word. People started their marathon training, and I secretly did as well, but under the guise of “I’m always training”.  I did not want anyone to interfere with my decision, challenge my previous thinking, or comment that Ramadan (the month of fasting) would interfere with marathon training. I told my parents just 2 weeks ago that I was running the marathon after I finished my second 20 mile training run! Slowly and surely I have come out of the closet and am now 10 days away from running this race I never thought I would run. I have incredible support and through family and friends, I’ve raised over $2,100 to help reduce the barriers of maternal mortality, stemming from a lack of access, transportation, supplies and education.

My two sons just had birthdays: 14 and 12. Both of their births had slight complications and running in their honor is the only way for me to run. I connect my steps metaphorically with other women worldwide, who embark on the journey of childbirth, which people tend not to focus on as much. The pomp and circumstance is pregnancy and the baby. But what about those 800 women who die every day in childbirth? And then what about the fact that 90% of those deaths are preventable? So yeah, it’s time for me to put on this jersey and run for those women, so that they too can be around to celebrate their child’s 12th and 14th birthdays.

If you want to help me get to the start line, please contribute to my Crowdrise account here. All your contributions go to great places and make a significant impact, worldwide.

God bless!

Ayesha

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I Run for Mothers

In 2013 I unofficially joined Every Mother Counts (EMC) as a Running Ambassador. That means I get to run, metaphorically, for women who are walking or running to seek healthcare. Often, failing to make it due to labor complications. Ninety percent of maternal mortality is preventable. Ninety percent. And Every Mother Counts has figured out ways to cut into that alarming statistic by addressing access, barriers, and education.  In October 2014, I was really fortunate to finally meet my EMC family in person, and was asked to join a panel discussion following a new movie premiere entitled, “Every Mile, Every Mother”.

Christy Turlington Burns, EMC Founder; Julie Smolyansky, CEO Lifeway Foods; Ayesha Akhtar, EMC Running Ambassador; Erin Thornton, CEO EMC
L to R: Christy Turlington Burns, EMC Founder; Julie Smolyansky, CEO Lifeway Foods; Ayesha Akhtar, EMC Running Ambassador; Erin Thornton, CEO EMC

The documentary, narrated by EMC Founder, Christy Turlington Burns, follows the team on the biggest relay race – the Hood to Coast. Following the premiere, I got to join her, CEO Erin Thornton, and Moderator Julie Smolyansky (CEO, Lifeway Foods) for a short Q&A panel discussion, also unveiling the Running Ambassador program. I discussed my own childbirthing experiences and urged interested audience members to start sharing their own stories so we could begin connecting the dots and learn from one another.

I’ve been running in solidarity with Team EMC using the Charity Miles app — best and easiest way to raise money and awareness for several selected charities.  I’d wear my EMC logo shirt as well. Next month, I’m excited to finally run WITH my team, at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon! It’s my first race in NYC, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to join up not only with EMC staff but also the Ambassadors from across the country!

You can help me get to the start line! Every dollar you contribute goes to programming in up to 9 countries worldwide, from assisting women in transportation, training doulas and providing safe birthing supplies. You can be a part of reducing maternal mortality!

Thank you for your support.

My Crowdrise Page:

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Running for Mothers

Hello everyone!! I have been waiting for this moment for months and months.  I am extremely excited to announce that I will be part of the pilot Running Ambassador program for Every Mother Counts (EMC)!

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 9.02.12 AMFor those of you who know me, you’ll know this is a perfect marriage of two of my loves: running and public health. So what does this mean for us?

  • Me: Identify a local running event, a 5k or 10k, or even a half marathon, and ensure I can create a team of runners
  • You: Register for the race, join the team, tell your friends about it, thereby raising awareness, and hopefully, raise funds
  • Me: Lead group runs, provide training plans if needed
  • You: Be awesome and support Every Mother Counts!
  • Us: Create a running revolution and make a united impact as a team!

Continue reading Running for Mothers

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My Interview with the SkinLess Project

The SkinLess Project presents:
Inspirational Woman May 2014: Ayesha Akhtar
An Interview.

I was honored to be the “Inspirational Woman” for the month of May at the SkinLess Project. To hear more about my endeavors, check out the website here.

You are passionate about advocacy for women and young girls, where does this stem from?

In college (Loyola University Chicago) I received a scholarship into a 4 year women’s leadership program. I knew I was some version of a feminist (or a proponent of the advancement of women), but had no idea about the passion the program would ignite in me by the time I graduated. Thereafter, I viewed everything from the lens as an advocate for women and girls. (Check out the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership)

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Ayesha and the Zooma Race

Originally appeared: http://www.everymothercounts.org/blog/201308/ayesha-and-chicago-zooma-race

“Of course ‘every mother counts’,” was the first comment my mom had when I told her the purpose for my early morning need to leave my boys with her as I headed out to the lakefront for the Zooma Chicago race. Unfortunately, as obvious as it may be that all mothers are important, there is still so much work that needs to be done in the arena of maternal health. Narrowing the public health gaps (access, cost & quality) for women seeking prenatal and antenatal care as well as safe delivery care are issues very dear to me. I took a course in graduate school on maternal health and was shocked to learn how poorly the United States ranks in preventing maternal mortality, and even more appalling when compared to other industrial, strong nations.
I spent some of my post-graduate years working with young girls and helping them develop self-esteem, strong minds and bodies, yet yearned for the maternal audience. It all starts at home, I kept thinking, with mothers. I found Every Mother Counts (EMC) and immediately fell in love with the mission and even more so when I read Christy’s story of how EMC was founded. I too had a story! I had two complicated births, despite all my attempts at hiring a doula, a midwife, taking natural childbirth classes, and wanting to refuse medication. Yet I found myself in front of an obstetrician both times. I thought, how could this be happening? I thought I knew everything! How lucky I am to be in a country, state and city that allowed me the freedom to seamlessly be transferred between midwife and MD. I never took it for granted, and was even more grateful when I had to visit my firstborn in the neonatal unit where he spent his first four days of life. I know I am lucky because for every case like mine there are ten women who didn’t survive childbirth.

Volunteering at the Every Mother Counts info booth at the Chicago Zooma race

This is why I left my kids at home and asked EMC if I could volunteer at their table at the Zooma race on a Saturday morning. I want everyone to know that it is entirely possible to die from pregnancy complications or during childbirth, in 2013, nonetheless. I’ve espoused EMC’s mission, and I’m thrilled to help!

In this country we have a choice on everything. Information is thrown at us from every direction, when we want it and when we don’t. We choose to make changes in our lives based on these little nuances. During both of my pregnancies I was enrolled at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and strongly believe that the education I received at that time was life-changing, not only for me and my family, but everyone in my ‘circle’. I believe it is my responsibility as a mother and as a public health educator to empower women with medically-accurate information. Educating and enabling women to use their experiences can also help reduce maternal mortality across the world.

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