Soul sister has Victoria women running

Instructor at the heart of running community

Mena Westhaver holds the inspirational training and log book she designed for beginner runners in the Sole Sisters women’s only running club. The book encourages members to run even the most moderate amount rather than skip a night’s jog.

From her headband to her running socks, Mena Westhaver is decked in running gear bearing the Sole Sisters name brand.

For the most part, being a Sole Sister is similar to being part of any other running group. But look closer and you’ll find a leader who has hundreds of Victoria women grooving to their own beat.

Westhaver’s gift –– an unending reserve of positive energy –– drives her as a mom of four boys, a community fitness programmer, a power skating coach and, notably, the original Sole Sister.

“We have a saying with the Sole Sisters, ‘whatever you can do is enough.’ No one can ever feel like they can’t keep up,” Westhaver said. “Our greatest pride is having options for everyone and, because of it, our retention levels are very high.”

Though each of her jobs are meant to be part-time, the workload required comes in waves. By the time she gets to her e-mail inbox, it’s the wee hours of the morning when many people are closer to getting up than going to bed.

What’s more, Westhaver and the Sole Sisters have raised thousands of charity dollars with the Quarters for Cubs, all for local causes.

It started with throwing a quarter in the pot before each run.

“By the end of the first year we raised $2,000, which we never would have guessed would come from quarters alone.”

If there’s a way to tie in philanthropy, the Sole Sisters do it, she said.

That was a few years ago, before her third son, Jack, came down with leukemia.

Granted, life in a house with four boys between the ages of five and 12 is bound to hit a few snags. But the demands of caring for Jack, now eight, pulled Westhaver away from work.

After years of pouring over the heavy-hearted applications of locals for the money raised by Quarters for Cubs, the Sisters ran for Westhaver.

“We’ve been on the receiving end as well as giving,” said Westhaver.

Jack is recovering well, back in the swing of things with school and friends.

Needless to say, the family is supportive of mama Westhaver and her role in the community.

On top of organizing 28 running leaders and 272 Sole Sisters, Westhaver, a certified fitness leader, is a programmer with Saanich’s Leisure Involvement For Everyone (LIFE), providing access to Saanich recreation programs and services for low income individuals and families.

A stint with Ice Capades in the 1980s led her to power skating and she started PowerWest Athletics in 1987. Westhaver worked with future NHLers and to this day holds a long-term partnership with the Victoria Grizzlies.

“Through teaching I had an awareness of my beliefs in the community and I wanted to share. I started run-walk groups because in 2001 that was the trend,” Westhaver said.

“They were co-ed but only seven or eight of the 50 members were men.”

In 2008, Westhaver engineered the idea for the Sole Sisters, complete with a training and log book personalized for women.

“I sent out an e-mail through my PWA contacts. Within a week I had 100 women interested, and 150 by the end of the year,” she said.

Already, 169 of those members are registered to run the TC 10K on May 1, and “there are bound to be more,” she added.

Cyber sisters & Little Soles

  • Ten of the Sole Sisters do so as cyber sisters. “They follow along online (and with their booklet) but no longer live here or never did,” Westhaver said.

  • The group also introduced two features for kids. Child care services are offered for two hours on Tuesday nights.

  • Kids a little older can take part in their first running group. The Little Soles for Little Souls run 1.5 kilometres along the Galloping Goose trail on Saturdays.

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