"Mom and Me" The Rowlands on the Run
The Family That Runs Together…
Emily Rowland and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Abigail, both discovered running at the same time. Emily credits it with helping her lose 70 lbs. and saving her life. Abigail has become a bright, young running star with her sights set on running in high school and beyond. The dynamic duo sat down with us to talk about their running journey—where they’ve been, where they’re going, and how every mile brings them closer together.
What made you start running?
EMILY: In 2018 I was getting out of a really bad divorce, and I remember one morning I went to put my shoes on to take the kids to the bus stop. I bent over and I couldn’t get my shoe on. I was severely overweight--about 220 lbs.—and I had been a smoker for fifteen years. When I couldn’t get my shoe on, I thought, “I’m not going to be here for my grandkids. I’m not going to be able to watch my own kids grow up.” I hit rock bottom and realized I needed to do something.
After school that day, I told my kids I was going to go for a run. I was so overweight that they didn’t want me to run alone and came with me. I made it probably 100 meters.
You ran our Leftovers Half Marathon. How did you get from 100 meters to 13.1 miles?
EMILY: We started using a couch to 5K program. Abigail and my oldest son, Andrew, would rotate who would run with mom. After a while we realized, wow, Abigail’s fast! So, she started running on her own.
Abigail, how fast are you?
ABBY: (turns red) uh…
EMILY: She’s fast.
ABBY: Well, that first 5K I finished in 37 minutes.
And how old were you then?
(Abby clearly doesn’t like to brag, so we’ll just step in here to do a little bragging for her. This past August, at 13 years-old, she finished as the first overall female in our final Ice Cream in the Park 5K, with a time of 23:35. Last spring, she finished first in a 10K at Coventry Woods, and last month, she finished fourth overall and first in the 19 & Under age group at the Triple Dam run at Green Lane. Now back to the interview…)
Sometimes it’s hard for even the most dedicated of us to stick with a running routine. What keeps you two motivated to stick with it?
EMILY: I asked Abby the other day, why she likes running so much, and we realized, it’s like therapy for us. The whole mental health aspect, even for her, is so important. During COVID, running was our chance to get out, to talk to each other. We made a rule in 2020 that we would do at least one mile a day—whether it’s running or walking, outside or on the treadmill. We joined the Y. We’ve been out there in tornado warnings! We just have to get that mile in.
Have you kept up the streak?
EMILY: Yes! Even when I got injured. I walked with a boot, with crutches. The streak didn’t stop. We told our friends and a bunch of them started doing it, because it’s only 20 minutes a day. Sometimes we do more, four or five miles. But we do at least one mile each day. We give each other 20 minutes. I get to ask her how her day was and what she did. This world is so focused on screens or phones. There’s so much stuff going on that we need those twenty minutes every single day.
We’ve seen you guys at so many of our races. And even when Emily’s not running the race, she’s there cheering on Abigail and pulling for her. It’s so wonderful to see that closeness and that shared activity. Abigail, how does it feel to know that your mom is there sharing this with you?
ABBY: I wouldn’t be running as much as I do if she wasn’t there for me. Because if she’s not there, my support’s not there and I don’t have the energy to do it. When she’s there, it makes me happy. It makes me keep going.
You guys have such a good relationship.
EMILY: I was a really young mom. I had my first when I was 15, and now she’s 20. So many people tell you that it’s over in the blink of an eye and it is literally over in the blink of an eye. To have a kid who has the same interests as you, it’s a dream come true. There are times when I’m injured or don’t enter into races because I want to be fully there to support her and to run to all the spots.
Abigail, are you running on a school team now?
ABBY: I’m in 8th grade at Upper Perk and I run for the cross-country team. I also run the 800 meters and the 1600 meters for the track team.
Have you thought about running in college?
I’m hoping to get a scholarship in high school for cross-country.
When did you guys know that Abigail had a talent for running?
EMILY: Two years ago, the furthest Abigail had run was 3 miles. I signed up for the Leftovers half and Abby said, “oh I’ll come with.” So she came with and blew me away by half an hour with no training, no nothing, in exactly 2 hours.
Holy cow! I’m still trying to run a half marathon in 2-hours! What are your goals for this year, Abby? I’d like to run a 5K in 18 or 19 minutes. But I have to get back in running shape after basketball season.
(Another side bar to brag for Abby here. In addition to being budding track star, she’s a black belt in tai kwan do, boxes, plays the saxophone and flute, and gets straight As.)
I have a nine-year-old son and I’m constantly fighting the battle against screens. I have to ask, Emily. How do you do it?
EMILY: My philosophy is that kids have to keep busy. That was my rule as a mom. I didn’t care if it was a sport or an instrument or chess club. But I always wanted my kids to do one thing. Keeping busy is better than just sitting there.
ABBY: (whispering) Mom, I do chess club too.
We ask this of everyone. What goes through your head on your long runs? ABBY: Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I think, ‘why am I doing this?’ Sometimes it’s just random thoughts to keep me busy. But every time I hit those mile markers I start counting down.
What’s next for the dynamic duo?
EMILY: The Riverfront Relay is on Abby’s birthday this year, so we’re definitely going to do that. Tuesdays in the Park and the airport mile.
All right! A lot of RUNegades events!
EMILY: We've started coming to your races because I think they're more family-oriented than many of the races that we've done. We've just had more fun--not just in the races themselves, but with the after-parties and the games.
Even if it's just me and Abby running, our entire family gets to come and have fun. They can all get involved. With the mile run, there was a group of 15 of us there. It involves the whole family and that's exactly what we're looking for.
Okay, last question. The Riverfront Relay—who is going to be on your team?
EMILY: I have a really supportive partner, but he doesn’t run that far yet. So right now, it’s just me and Abby. She’s my little sidekick. She goes everywhere with me. The fact that we have running--something that we both love and get to share. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
(The two exchange a knowing smile).
ABBY: Neither would I.