Today is Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sole Sisters

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This metal tag on Shelia Ferrell’s running shoe displays the name of the group of dedicated runners who hit the ground running for physical, social, spiritual and emotional benefits.
This metal tag on Shelia Ferrell’s running shoe displays the name of the group of dedicated runners who hit the ground running for physical, social, spiritual and emotional benefits.
The 5 AM Faithful, a devoted group of Smith County road-running friends, congregate early weekday mornings at Ivy Agee Memorial Park in Gordonsville for a three- to five-mile run. Seen here, from left, are Shelia Ferrell, Regina Wright, Amy Dudney, Ann Hawkins, Amanda Mason and Bonnie Grandstaff. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Six of the nine members of the 5 AM Faithful make their way through Gordonsville on a Saturday morning in April. The group’s favorite race may be the Cooper River Bridge 10K in Charleston, S.C., but they enjoy participating in as many Smith County running events as possible, like the 5K Race for Jordan [Hackett], Chad’s Run and the Rotary River Run.  KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
The trio of, from left, Sandy Hall, Rachel Alvis and Allison Greer rounds out the nine members of the 5 AM Faithful. Photo submitted

5 AM Faithful builds strong bonds

GORDONSVILLE -- From the inside out they make a beautiful band of sisters, these dedicated runners who call themselves the 5 AM Faithful.

Meeting four or five mornings a week at Ivy Agee Memorial Park in Gordonsville, they start off most days with a three- to five-mile run. Along the route they chat, they sweat, they laugh and they cry.

Over time the sole sisters have transformed into soul sisters. They run in the predawn darkness, but their spirits prove sunny as they provide encouragement to one another and share prayers over personal and family concerns.

Members of this union include four educators, a farmer, a banker, a pharmacist, an accountant and a food broker. With an average age of 35, all are mothers, who combined have 20 children.

They tend to run in two groups, with one taking off at 4:30 a.m. and the second at 4:45 or so. Their runs are done by 5:30, and then it's time to return home, get the family to stirring and then make their way to work.

The sisterhood includes Bonnie Brimm-Grandstaff, Sandy Hall, Amy Dudney, Regina Wright, Amanda Mason, Rachel Alvis, Ann Hawkins, Allison Greer and Shelia Ferrell.

"We do whatever we can whenever we can as often as we can," says Ferrell, the leader of the pack, who initiated things in January 2009.

"At that time, I was faithfully walking five to six days a week. My assistant, Janet Powell, joined me that spring when we started the faithful morning walk. . . I think we started calling ourselves the 5 AM Faithful in the fall of 2011 when the original group [Wright, Mason, Hawkins and Hall] started training for the Country Music Half Marathon.

"It is a very diverse group with lots of different careers, interests and ages of children. Running is the bond that brought us together, basically one by one, over a period of several months back in 2010 and 2011. What keeps us together is the support we each need and receive from each other," said Ferrell, who lives in New Middleton and is relationship manager for First Freedom Bank in Lebanon.

Sharing on the road

Indeed, the running mates have shared a wide variety of personal dilemmas, ranging from physical ailments to deaths of family members and other problems, and in return have been nurtured and strengthened. As a team they reach out to others, specifically by participating in running events for a number of local charitable groups.

"My goal is to run because I can," said Wright, a kindergarten-through-grade-five literacy coach, who works with teachers at 12 Wilson County schools. "For the last few months my goal has been to make it back to running six miles again. I am recovering from reconstructive foot surgery due to problems that I was born with."

Wright had the surgery last September, the results being that a long medal pin, screw and a plate hold the right side of her foot together. At times she and her doctors thought she might never run again.

"When I say that I run because that I can, I am really meaning it is a miracle from the Lord that I can walk, much less run. I consider running a gift that God back to me," said the Brush Creek resident, who has six more months of recovery and gave her goal to run another half-marathon.

"I also have a heart murmur and leaky valve, so another goal is to run consistently in order to keep my heart healthy. I look forward to the local Jordan Hackett 5K race every year in May, since I know the race money is going to such a great cause, such as heart research. This was my first race to ever run.

"If I do not feel like running, I often think of my friend Chad Hunter who is paralyzed and can't run. While I am running the Chad Run course [in November], I think of him, and this is motivation to persevere through any pain or discomfort.

Prayer partners

"Our group shares prayer requests with one another. Before running we have formed a circle, held hands, and prayed for specific needs of the group. We often text our prayer requests to one another during the week. Running with my group is a stress reliever from my busy life," said Wright.

"There are so many benefits to this group!" echoes Hall, accounting manager for D.T. McCall & Sons. "We have become the best of friends and encourage one another not only with fitness, but really to just be the best woman, mother, spouse and Christian we can be. We pray together and share how God is working in our lives.

"The first event I ever ran was the Susan G. Komen in Cookeville in 2010 in memory of my sister Kim Brown. The group has run it every year since. My sister passed in 2010 of breast cancer, and God brought me to this group a few months after. They are truly heaven sent," said the Brush Creek resident.

New Middleton Elementary teacher Alvis's favorite race is the Jordan Hackett 5K for the most personal of reasons: her 3-year-old daughter Lana.

"Karen and Stephen Hackett have a special place in my heart. My husband and I had our little girl at 28 weeks, and she had four surgeries at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital where she stayed in the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] for three months," recalled Alvis.

"During that trying time in our lives, Karen and Stephen helped us with their love and support through the foundation. After we brought our little girl home, we were honored at the race in May 2012 along with Steven and Audrey Russell and their little boy Titus who was also born prematurely. The Jordan Hackett Foundation helps different people that are from our county that are going through similar situations, and it was a blessing to my family," said the one-year member of the Faithful, who lives in Grant.

"I love to get up in the morning to see my friends and know that they are always by my side. They are encouraging no matter what we may be faced with in our lives. Starting our day with a workout makes the day to seem so much better and it helps us to feel better about ourselves.

"Shelia is hard on each of us if we try to give up, but she keeps us going. I have gained new friendships and stories that we love to share with each other. Together we are prayer warriors for those who are in need. I needed a goal when we came home from Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, and running and gaining friendship with these people has helped me to be the person that I am today," Alvis said.

Dedicating time for each other

Brimm-Grandstaff, also a teacher at New Middleton School, draws great comfort and strength from her running partners. Over the past several years the Brush Creek resident watched her parents battle cancer, with her father succumbing to the disease in 2012.

"After dad passed away, my friend Rachel Alvis kept telling me about this group and encouraged me to start walking and running with them. I kept making excuses, but then I finally realized that I needed to get focused on me again," she said.

"In 2013, I began to meet in the mornings a few times but not very consistently. I began to feel so much better and felt as though I was beginning to get myself back physically, mentally and emotionally. This past August I made up my mind that I was going to put all I had into getting myself back. It has been amazing and without the support and encouragement from this group, I would not be pulling myself back together."

Brimm-Grandstaff, the early bird of the bunch, normally runs three-and-a-half to four miles at 4:30 a.m. with Greer.

She notes, "Our days begin around 4:10 a.m. We all receive a text from Shelia saying, 'Up Ladies???' And most of the time the next text is from me responding 'Yep.'"

Mason began running/walking with the group in May 2011, 10 months after she shattered an ankle.

"I have pins and a rod in my left ankle. I never thought I could be a runner, but Shelia and Regina had different plans for me. They invited me to join them and have helped me all along the way. Twenty-one months after ankle surgery, I ran the Country Music Half Marathon," said the Gordonsville High School teacher, who lives in Grant.

"These ladies push me to do things that are not easy, and by myself I wouldn't do, but with their support and encouragement, I have been able to accomplish things I didn't think possible four years ago.

"When I am facing a tough situation and feel discouraged, I often think. 'I ran a half marathon, I can do this!' I wouldn't have that without this group of ladies. We love and support each other like family. We help each other through the highs and lows of motherhood, careers, marriage, just life in general. All of these ladies have helped me grow in my faith with God. Many mornings we have prayed together and counseled each other.

"It's hard to communicate just how much this group means to me. So I'll just put it this way, said Mason. "I have been blessed with a second family called the 5 AM Faithful."

Fleet of feet friendships

Dudney, a pharmacist at Gordonsville Drugs, enlisted with the group three years ago and has since run as far as 14 miles. She says her greatest benefit far and away has been friendship.

"This group of girls will pray for you, motivate you, and just be there to listen to you. Physical fitness is just an added bonus," said Dudney, who lives in Hickman.

Greer, in the midst of raising five children, works side-by-side with her husband on an exotic animal farm in Brush Creek. She joined the group a few months back and confesses that she hates running, however, she says, "The feeling you get when crossing over the finish line is incredible!

"I have really grown to love being around these ladies and cherish our friendship that has been made," said Greer, noting they share similarities. "We all have ailments and accomplishments that we can relate with each other. We enjoy laughing and sweating together. We hold each other accountable and encourage each to reach different personal heights that otherwise might not be obtainable alone."

Hawkins, a buyer for an institutional wholesale company, has been in the running clan since 2010. These days she works out most of the time at her home in Brush Creek on a stationary bike or walking. Back problems have stalled her running program, but she says, "Walking is welcome in the 5 AM Faithful."

She actually ran her first half marathon while pregnant with her first child, thus she tells her daughter that she ran a half marathon before she was born.

Runner's high

A sense of camaraderie, friendship and accountability are the main benefits she has received from her cohorts.

"I would do anything for these ladies and consider them my best friends. We have laughed and cried together. We also consider our group a great ministry to each other and others. We talk about what God has done for us in our lives, pray for each other and even have people to ask our group to pray for them," Hawkins said.

For Faithful leader Ferrell the running sorority has become many things and is definitely one of the highlights of her day.

"Getting my workout done in the morning gets my day started off right and makes me feel so much better all day. It definitely jump starts my day. Rolling out of bed at 4:15 still isn't easy, but once my feet hit the floor, I am good to go," she says.

"Knowing that other people are counting on me to be there helps to keep me going day after day. The peacefulness of the morning is just an amazing experience. I find it to be a good time to talk with God and just sort out life's daily challenges. The bird's chirping and the sweet morning air hitting you in the face is just a constant reminder of how incredible our God really is. It is hard to explain the calmness of the morning which surpasses the feeling I get running any other time of the day."

Ferrell, who ran 12 racing events last year, hopes to compete in 14 races by the end of 2015. She started her exercise routine and changed her diet six years ago as a conscious decision to lose weight.

"From day one, I not only wanted to improve my health and control my weight, but I had a passion to help other working mothers do the same. I suppose that is how I got the nickname, 'The Punisher' from my original walking partner, Janet. When I could convince someone to join me, I would worry you to death and even resort to shaming you into sticking with the program," she said.

(Janet also gave Ferrell a red fleece pullover which reads "The Punisher" across the back.)

"What started out as a desire to get myself on a lifetime workout routine, along with other working mothers, grew into something much larger and so special. A common goal of running the Country Music Half Marathon in 2012 by the five original 5 AM Faithful has turned unto something far beyond a fitness support system. Today our group of nine spans various ages and careers, and we are in various stages of life. Yet, what started as a small running group has developed into a working mother support system," she said.

"We have found in each other a group of ladies that absolutely love our kids and will give hours upon end to be involved with their lives and a group of women that love God and will drop everything to honor a prayer request from anyone in our group.

"The group has truly become a close-knit family as we have gathered at the Masons' home for the past three years to celebrate Christmas. This includes spouses and our children of all ages who have likewise developed a common bond. It is interesting to hear the men and children talk about how crazy we are to get up at the crack of dawn to exercise," said the 5 AM Faithful's founder.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at

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