Mimi’s passion: A walking group that does good in the world
There’s something uniquely special about the walking group that Mimi Darwish started in spring 2021. It’s called Columbus Sole Survivors, and it’s for women who are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
For the last two years, she’s been helping women maintain their sobriety and take control of their lives. In 2022 alone, Columbus Sole Survivors had 16 members who walked 370 miles together. Among other milestones, six of those members celebrated one year of sobriety, and the group competed in three races.
Mimi is an associate director of project management here at Ologie, so I sat down and talked to her about this passion of hers.
Raina Bradford-Jennings: Can you tell me what Columbus Sole Survivors is all about?
Mimi Darwish: It is a walking/running group — but mostly walking — for women who are in recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Got it. Why walking and running? And how did you get started with this?
Okay, let’s rewind back and start with a little background from me. Seven years ago, I lost a cousin, who I was super close with, to drugs. And the year before that, I lost another cousin to drugs. So drug addiction runs pretty deep in my family, and I always sort of felt defeated in that world, just because I never understood it. I didn’t know how I could help. I’m really a person who naturally likes to fix things, and the fact that I have family members who struggle with drug addiction and I felt like I couldn’t help them — it feels a little paralyzing knowing that.
So I was listening to this podcast a few years ago. There was this guy who was talking about his struggle with addiction, and how he completely transformed his life through joining a running group. (The group that he belongs to is called Back on My Feet.) His story and struggles resonated with me, because it was very relatable to my cousin Ned, who I lost to addiction.
The guy being interviewed on the podcast talked about how he walked into a halfway home, and ended up joining their running group. When he first agreed to show up to the group, it was in hopes of just getting a free pair of tennis shoes. He was initially not a runner, nor did he have the desire to be one. But instead, he found his passion. He said that he finally had that spark, and that something to look forward to is what kept him sober.
He’s now a personal trainer at Conbody, which is a gym that works to destigmatize the formerly incarcerated community. I reached out to him on Instagram, and asked for some more information on that running group he joined. I figured, if I’m already working out and dedicating time to walking and running, I might as well start something and show others that there’s relief to their mental health struggles as well. That’s how Columbus Sole Survivors was formed.
How do walkers, runners, and volunteers get connected with Columbus Sole Survivors?
The group meets on Wednesday mornings from 7:30 to 8:30, which has made it more difficult for volunteers to show up because of their work schedules. But I keep it at that time because I partner with Amethyst. They have a dedicated driver who takes the ladies to and from our meetups.
I have volunteers, who are mostly people I know personally, who show up and walk at all levels, so no one feels like they’re walking by themselves. Right now I’ve only extended the opportunity to volunteer to friends or people who follow along on social media. We keep the group to around 10 women, so while we don’t need that many volunteers, I’d love to have more people show up and walk with us.
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You mentioned that you have milestones for members. What are those milestones and how can members get them? What do you do to celebrate them?
The goal is to provide something to look forward to that keeps them motivated and keeps them coming back. My goal is to create consistency, and help develop a healthy habit, so much so that they even practice it without me! Sometimes we’ll meet on a Wednesday, and one of the women will tell me, “I walked four miles on Saturday too!” And I love how great that makes them feel.
“All of our milestone gifts are geared toward removing any barriers to pursuing this activity.”
When a member comes four times in a row, they earn a free pair of tennis shoes. That’s their first milestone, and then from there, there’s a new milestone every 25 miles. When a member hits their first 25-mile mark, they get a fitness activity tracker watch. At 50 miles, they can earn a new pair of active pants, a running shirt, or whatever they share that they’re in need of, and so on. Anything that kind of motivates them to continue on their fitness journey — that’s what they’ll get at their milestones. But it’s always consistent with the free pair of tennis shoes and the fitness activity tracker watch.
You may notice that all of our milestone gifts are geared toward removing any barriers to pursuing this activity and really helping them stay motivated and feel good about themselves. So their activity tracker watch, the clothes, the milestones — if the members have these supports, it’s going to help them keep going in the future.
There are a lot of barriers to physical activity, truly. There are so many barriers to just trying to go out, exist, and enjoy the world. I think it’s really important that, in the process of helping the runners and walkers create these new habits, you’re also helping them get on the same playing field as a lot of other people. You’re helping them get to that baseline and helping to make it an equitable process. Like you said earlier, there’s a large cycle involved in addiction and being disenfranchised by the support services around you in the community.
What would you tell other people who have loved ones who are struggling with addiction? What’s something that you wish you had known or something you’ve learned?
I would tell them to help their loved one find something that they’re passionate about. Because with both of my cousins who I lost, they had lost that spark, and they had nothing to look forward to. I wish I would have known how exercising and group activity could be life-turning for someone. Maybe I could have put more energy into helping my cousins find something that they were super passionate about, because maybe just a little spark would have kept them going.
If you or a loved one is facing addiction, call the free, confidential SAMHSA National Helpline at: 1-800-662-4357 to find support.