"When you’re happy, it shows."
On the eve of our Oakland Running Festival weekend, I wanted to share an interview with Team Caballero. Alicia Caballero-Christenson and her mother Monica Caballero are participating together with Team Ella Baker Center. Alicia is the Campaign Associate for Soul of the City, and Monica lives in Alta Dena and is a docent at the LA Zoo as well as a teacher. I think it will come as no surprise when you read this piece that these two fierce and beautiful women are mother and daughter!
- What has your relationship to health and fitness been like, in the past as well as the present? How did your family approach health when you were growing up?
Monica: Growing up, my father worked and mother stayed home. It’s amazing what our mother did with her limited income. My mother insisted that the kids eat in the school cafeterias because back then the food was really nutritious. For dinner, we’d have casseroles mostly. We didn’t really exercise a lot because my mother was very protective of us. When I was in high school I wanted to play sports like basketball, soccer, and hockey, but my mother was so protective she wouldn’t allow me to participate. So, marching band was my compromise.
In my senior year of high school I was finally allowed to join a co-ed volleyball team. In those days, girls weren’t encouraged to be athletic, but I would have loved to join every sport there was! Now, with four children, I want my daughters to participate in anything they want. Alicia has always loved sports, especially basketball. In middle school she joined basketball— though she was probably not the best basketball player, her heart was really in it. She made lots of friends and they liked her because she worked really hard. Sports was her outlet, it’s where she found balance.
Alicia: I had the privilege of growing up in a home where health and fitness were central to my daily life. When my mother separated from my father when I was 7, she completely transformed my family’s relationship to exercise and food. We started doing something active every night like riding bikes or going for walks. When I got to junior high school, my mother encouraged me to play sports and take up running. I always loved being the girlie tomboy. To this day, my love for running and exercise hasn't stopped; it is a way of life that was instilled in me at a very young age.
- How do you know when you're feeling imbalanced? What do you do for self-care?
Monica: For me, I try to stay focused on “one day at a time”. Alicia gets stressed—I think she causes too much of her own stress because she worries about things that have not yet happened. Exercise helps her a lot with the stress. I take life one day at a time. If I’m feeling a lot of stress, I usually will talk to someone about it, or I’ll journal.
I think the guidelines of the 12-step program is such a healthy way to look at things. Just one day at a time, don’t worry about tomorrow or things you can’t control. I also like affirmations and say them often. Happiness is a spiritual experience, of living every minute with grace, gratitude, and love. Just think about it: Gratitude that you’re not sick, that you have a job… I think Alicia is tired of hearing me say that I love those types of things.
Alicia: When I don't exercise and sleep, my body hurts. When I don't make time for family and friends, I feel isolated. For me community, interconnectedness, exercise, and food are essential elements of my happiness and my general sense of balance.
- Monica, What are your favorite things about swimming and walking?
I can walk about 3 hours in the morning. I live in Alta Dena so there are lots of trees. When I visit Oakland, I like walking Lake Merritt. There is spirituality in it. It’s a time to clear your mind, listen to NPR in the morning—I do this and I’m in heaven. I just feel good. I do it every single day.
Like today: I’m a docent at the LA Zoo, so I got up at 5, I walked from 5:30-7:30, and then after the zoo I swam for an hour, and then will walk for another hour tonight. Alicia likes to run, she doesn’t really like to walk—she thinks I’m too slow. I do a lot of rosaries, and swimming is very meditative like the rosaries. It helps me clear my mind. I don’t count my laps. I don’t ever know how many laps I do. I don’t need to know the distance, I just need to do it and be present for it.
- Alicia, what are your favorite things about running?
Running is a meditative adrenaline rush in which I can get out of my mind and connect with my body. There is something very spiritual and healing about running that goes beyond the actual physical activity. I call running my natural drug because it melts away my stress and makes me feel more connected to myself and others. I also love the community building aspect of running. As much as some people think running is an individual sport, it has the powerful ability to build community and friendships. I love doing group runs followed by pancakes and mimosas with my running buddies. There is something beautiful in connecting with yourself and others through running.
5. How do you talk to each other about health or fitness?
Monica: We didn’t really talk about health or fitness, but we practiced it. I’m a Home Ec teacher, so it was just always part of our lives. I always gave them choices of vegetables and fruits, and wanted to make sure they had those choices. We didn’t have a lot of junk food in our family. Alicia used to run track a lot in high school so sometimes just wanted Jamba Juice for dinner. But I made sure she took a granola bar with her and had breakfast each day.
We would walk sometimes—but Alicia gets antsy and wants to run. We’ve gone to the gym together but I’ll swim and she does weights or runs a thousand miles on the treadmill. When she was growing up I was so busy teaching and taking her to her sports, but she saw that I walked a lot and swam a lot. It was a part of our lifestyle, and I led by example.
Alicia: We talk about exercise without meaning to talk about exercise. When I'm crying over the phone she tells me to do 50 push ups and I'll feel better. When I'm mourning a heartbreak she tells me to get a punching bag and hit
it. When I have deadlines, my mom tells me to go take mini runs so I can think better. Instead of going to church, she tells me how she spoke to God on her walk while enjoying all of the beautiful trees. It is incorporated into the fabric of my mother’s life and her daily teachings.
5. What does "health" mean to you?
Monica: When you’re happy, it shows. Your face shows that your happy, your body shows it, you radiate love. You can look at people’s faces who are stressed out and you can just tell. I’m very very grateful for my health. I have this great health insurance and I only go once a year for a physical. I am very very blessed! I think exercise, the way you eat, your outlook on life, I think it’s a package deal. I’m grateful as far as health goes and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Alicia: I consider health to be a very broad concept that requires a holistic multi-pronged approach. It means unconditional love, respect and generosity to your self, others and the larger community. It means connecting to your mental, physical and spiritual body. It means justice. It means going dancing and laughing your butt off. It means being active and getting sweaty. It means rest. It means going to therapy and meditating. It means sustaining healthy relationships and shedding toxic ones. It means kisses and cuddling. It means staying positive and hopeful. It means biking to work. It means being honest and compassionate with yourself. It means eating vegetables and a side of chocolate. It means reflection. It means happiness.