I’m so excited to share our next ambassador. This time we spotlight the lovely Denise Williams! Denise is a mental health road warrior who has been featured in Women’s Running Magazine. Find her @roadside_sandy on IG!
In a few sentences, tell us about yourself
I’m a queer, biracial mental health social worker living with my dog, Sandy, in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to running and cycling, I hike, backpack, rock climb, paint, draw, read, and spend time with my dog, friends, and family for my well-being and self-care. I’ll be leaving the public school system this summer to move to North Carolina to pursue a doctoral degree in social work. I will research intersectionality and mental health at University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill (UNC-CH).
Why are you passionate about running for mental health?
Running is one of the few healthy, effective ways that I have personally coped with my trauma symptoms, anxiety and Major Depressive Disorder. As a licensed clinical social worker, I recognize the importance of physical exercise and movement to treat negative mental health symptoms. Exercise rewires the brain and increases the “happy” neurochemicals like dopamine and endorphins, elevating both mood and cognitive functions. I want to inspire others to feel positive about themselves. I want them to recognize that they can regain control of their mental health. We are more than our mental health diagnoses.
Do you have a running mantra?
“I will, because I can.”
This reminds me that my body and mind are capable of amazing feats. I will get through the rough patches because I am capable of reaching my goals. I will come out on the other side.
Where is your favorite place to run?
I love to run in nature, surrounded by trees and water, on the trails with my dog, Sandy. We usually go to state parks, my favorite in Maryland being Patapsco State Park. There are so many beautiful, meandering trails in the forest alongside the water. It’s very tranquil.
What are you most proud of (running or non running related)?
I am incredibly proud of being accepted into UNC-CH’s social work doctoral program for fall 2021. I could not have gotten this far without the love and support of my friends, family and mentors, (literal) blood, sweat and tears.
Favorite running moment you’d love to re-live?
Running my second marathon, the 2019 Richmond Marathon, was hands down one of my favorite running memories. For a handful of miles until mile 22, I really hit a wall and struggled to maintain a running gait. I remember feeling deeply disappointed in myself because I had hoped to beat my first marathon time and finish in at least 4 hours and 30 minutes.
Toward the last few miles of the race, I suddenly got a jolt of energy, and with encouragement from the spectators, and I was able to sprint across the finish line and complete the race at exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes. I remember the rush of euphoria and the great feeling of invincibility and pride that I felt crossing that line, sprinting, and realizing that I got exactly the time I had aimed for despite the struggles in the middle of the race. The great feeling of the culmination of all my hard work and hours of training felt rewarding.
What’s your favorite way to recover after a run?
After long runs, I like to stretch and then take a nice lavender Epsom salt bath to help ease my muscles into relaxation. The rest of my recovery day usually consists of vegan cupcakes, treating myself to a nice meal for carb-loading, movies, and snuggling with my dog, Sandy- basically, intense relaxation with zero guilt.
What’s one fun fact most people don’t know about you?
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve created artwork, whether it’s drawing, painting, photography, or even woodworking. In my mid-twenties, I discovered that some of my artwork was once taken without my permission, and turned into the cover of an international best-selling book. I only found out because a friend put some of my artwork into the Google Images search engine, and the book reviews came up in the results. I never received any money for this. But, after I contacted the foreign publishing company, for all newer editions my full name is now printed on the inside of the book as the cover art artist. It’s the small wins in life!
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Any form of potatoes, hands down- mashed potatoes, tater tots, potato chips, french fries, potatoes au gratin- if it’s a vegan potato recipe, I’ll eat it!
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
A hot dog is a hot dog, and therefore not a sandwich—ha!