Running on Fire

Interview with Olivia Frempong

By Katia Parella

   The very first time I met Olivia at a picnic, I knew that she was a woman on a mission. After hearing her story, I was inspired & had to tell others about her transformation – from scary diagnosis to a fitness coach. She was an inspiration to me as a woman & a runner. If you are not a runner (like me), you might become one after reading this interview. Ever since we’ve met at a local cafe for this interview, I’ve been running as part of my cardio exercises. And now every time I do that, I think of Olivia. She has run through many challenges of her life – with her health & work primarily. And there’s no slowing down in sight. She’s a woman running on fire & through fires of life. 

   Olivia was born in USA, but is strongly attached to her roots from Ghana. She used to live in Flushing, NY with her parents, first generation immigrants. Even though her parents didn’t speak the language with her, she managed to learn it on her own. “I represent Ghana to the fullest!”, she exclaims. Even wearing a bright African shirt at our meeting. She is well connected to the local Ghanian community & has also served as Secretary of the Ghanian Association of the Capital District in 2008-2012. 

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   The Fire Magazine (TFM): Who is Olivia?

   Olivia Frempong (OF): Olivia is a worshipper, she’s a wife, she’s a mother of three children. She’s a social worker. She’s an entrepreneur. And she’s a fitness coach.

   TFM: How did you decide to become a fitness coach? [Were you] a fitness coach first, then a runner?

   OF: Runner first. I started running after the birth of my twins. My husband & I, we had a loss. We were 6 months pregnant & expecting & just bought a new house…Your typical - get married, buy a house, have kids…And I found out the baby had died in my womb. So, God is awesome! We went through that…Exactly a year later, God restored us with our first son - Jeremiah. When Jeremiah was 9 months, we found out we were pregnant with our twins. So…it was 3 pregnancies back-to-back-to-back.

   After her twins were born, her doctor told her that her blood pressure was elevated & prescribed her a script. She held on to the script for a week without filling it. She explains that since her heritage comes from Ghana, where there’s a high prevalence for high blood pressure, she was also at risk. She prayed about her decision about the script & turned to her favorite Scripture, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength”.”Why not use [Jesus] to get rid of this hypertension?”, she says. She framed her prescription & ever since then she started to run. She corrects herself & called it “run-walking”. Her kids were about 2/3 months old when she started to run every day - a block first, then progressed to longer distances. “And it’s been a blessing ever since!”, she says. 

   And others around Olivia were watching carefully her progress & her life changes. And “it inspired them”, she says. “At the end of the day, it’s for your glory! He just started opening so many doors for me! It’s crazy how everything happened!”. 

   Once she started to run, she decided to participate in her first marathon. “I actually used to travel to NYC, sometimes twice a month…[with] an organization called ‘Black Girls Run’”. Black Girls Run (BGR) started in Atlanta, which she says helps “beat diabetes, high blood pressure & heart disease in African-American women”. And that’s when she decided to start BGR group in Albany, NY. “Just so I can have that accountability”, she explains. In 2016 she became a local ambassador. “There’s currently over 600 women in my chapter & we have about 4 weekly group runs that meet through out the Capital Region”. 

   She became a licensed Zumba instructor in 2015 & he’s also working on Afro Beats class. 

   TFM: Where do you teach Zumba? OF: At my church, there’s a gym space…There [are] also a couple of local churches that are interested in me coming to do [a class]. 

   TFM: Do you teach running?

   OF: Yes! I do have 3/4 trainings right now that are training for specific races…I just love being a resource to people!

   TFM: So, you are on a running streak right now…

   OF: Yesssss! Every day. So, let me tell you how that started. Runner’s World magazine has this annual thing & it’s usually between Thanksgiving & New Year's Day…& the other one is Memorial Day to July 4th. So, it’s about 38 to 40 days of running. Originally, the idea was just to help beat the holiday weight gain. So, run at least a mile. 

   Then Olivia & her girlfriends proposed: “We should do the run streak!”. They started the running streak together. But as the time went by, a lot of people stopped coming. “Something happened in 2017. I took that year off from doing the marathons…” & she started helping others achieve their running goals. Original plan was to run from Thanksgiving to New Year, but “I don’t know! It just became a part of my life”, she exclaims. 

   Running has been beneficial to Olivia as an individual, as a wife, mother, social worker & a praise & worship leader at her church. “As a Christian, that gives me my time…The run streak became my therapy. I take 10-15 minutes out of my day away from all the pressures & stresses of life. Just to spend with God. Lord, recuperate me! Because I need it now. And now - I just can’t stop”. The day I took this interview, she was on day 596 of her running streak. 

   TFM: Are you the only one in your group who is actually keeping up with [the streak]?

   OF: Yes! I have one girlfriend, she’s in Maryland, she’s been doing this with me.

   TFM: What are the other health benefits?

   OF: It gives me that mental stability…I work in addictions, I’m a social worker. It’s an impatient rehab & the disease of addiction is very prevalent. Population [of patients coming in] is getting worse & worse. It can be stressful. All day you are hearing these horrific stories of people [who] have been abused, traumatized, beaten…and turned to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism & in doing so, lost everything…It’s hard work…So, for me, running helps me emotionally, physically…

   TFM: What does your family say? 

   OF: When I first started running, [my husband] was so proud of me. He started running with me…My husband has always been supportive. 

   Because of the help of her husband, Olivia was able to travel the world. 

   Two months after she started running, she went back to her doctor & asked him to take her blood pressure & it was 110/70. It was a miracle & a huge achievement. She’s also overcoming doubts from other people, including other Ghanians, who have questioned her ability to run. And now they come to her, asking her for running advice. And now she laughs: “Oh ok! You wanna learn how to run now?!”

   TFM: How do you combine your faith & running?

   OF: It’s very easy! I remember when I first started running, I thought I was going to die…Am I doing this the right way? All it took for me to just start praying, asking God to guide me, asking Him to give me the strength…I’ll say this [again & again], Phillipians 4:13…& Hebrews 12:1 [“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”]. In our minds, we want a specific goal, we want it now. We don’t want to go through the trials & tribulations to get there. But in running, there’s a similar [concept] - you are moving from point A to B…As you are running, being able to just know that you have a provider & a Father [who] is willing to give you the strength. And all you have to do is just ask for it. And believe that when you ask for it, He will give it to you - has been amazing!

   She’s practicing her faith through her running. As she prays, she gets stronger, her confidence builds & she achieves the goals that she has set before her. She says that her faith has increased greatly since she started to run. “If you told me 4 years ago that I’d be running marathons, [I’d say] “get out!””, she jokes. “Look at God! We have this big image of God & who He is & we know that He can do certain things, but something as big as marathon & crossing the line…[God said to me] - ”I will never leave you nor forsake you”. And I pressed on to that. I ran the whole Chicago marathon non-stop for 5.5 hours. And during that whole time is was just me & the Lord”. As she would get tired, God reminded her that He was the one giving her strength. 

   TFM: What is the longest distance you ran?

   OF: Shortest - 200 meters. Longest was actually 28 miles. 

   TFM: That sounds exhausting.

   OF: It is! (laughs). But it’s so worth it!

   TFM: Once you did your longest run, how did you feel in your spirit? What did you think?

   OF: I can’t even express it. Mentally you know - I signed up for this race. But the day of - the nerves & the excitement & seeing the people cheer. And you actually doing it - it’s a feeling I can’t even describe. It’s amazing.

   TFM: I did the Freihofer’s 5K & that was [not easy]!

   OF: That’s awesome! You’re still doing more than someone sitting on the couch. That’s the way you gotta look at it. You have to put it into perspective. 

   To the women who tell her that they are not confident in their abilities & are “only” doing 1 mile or “only” 5K, she says that it’s “your race, your pace. It’s you vs you…It’s about doing your best”. She encourages others & sees their potential & tells them about it. “It’s like God. He knows the potential that we have. We don’t know that we have that potential. So, we are hesitant…Someone has that faith in you that you can”, she explains. 

   TFM: Are you able to evangelize while you’re running?

   OF: I’ll see people struggling & I’ll be like - hey, I’m Olivia, what’s happening? “Oh, my legs hurt”. Ok, we’ll pull over to the side, we’ll stretch & then we’ll continue. I’ll stay with them to finish the race…Sometimes I’ll be running with someone & [she will ask] - Liv, how did you do it? Well, let me tell you about Mr. Jesus!

   Many of us who run can be focused on running fast. In our heads, running means speed. Olivia is not just about how fast she’s going. “That’s great & everything & I know I can run fast  if I wanted to, but for me - it’s more important to help others…And in my journey there were people [who] helped me. It’s all about giving back”, she explains.

   TFM: What about your job? You have a tough job. Are you even allowed [to evangelize]?

   OF: So, technically, I’m not allowed, even though some days I go to work & want to be like - you guys need Jesus! 

   She has worked at an inpatient facility for the last 5 years at a unit with 20 patients & 4 counselors. She mainly works with mentally ill, “complex cases”. God has been opening doors for her to witness to those patients, who He wants witnessed to, “someway, somehow”, she says. “They just know that I’m a woman of God, so they’ll come to me…”. They ask for prayer or a Bible. At first, when she started working, she wanted to witness to everyone, but had to follow her job’s protocol, while letting God bring people to her. And He has. And now those people come back to her to share their testimonies of salvation. She has also posted photos of her running on social media together with a Scripture, which has also led to people asking more questions about God. 

   TFM: So, you’re a runner & a planter. 

   OF: Yeah. Plants along the way. (laughs)

  TFM: Which character trait that God gave you, is helping you to accomplish things?

   OF: Persistence. If there’s a goal that I have, no matter how difficult it is, I take it to the Lord in prayer. 

   Even that morning she woke up at 4.30am to meet with her trainer for strength training & woke up her husband at 6am to go on a run with her. And his response: “You just don’t quit! Didn’t you just work out?..You are so persistent. Aren’t you tired?”. 

   TFM: What about one of the fleshly qualities that are stopping you from achieving more?

   OF: That’s a good question. (thinks for awhile) Sometimes wanting what I want when I want it. 

   Just like any one of us, she struggles with wanting what she might think she deserves. But with that, she realizes that it’s a selfish desire, not something that God wants for her. 

   TFM: What would you recommend to a girl like me, who runs every few years, who struggles with running at the gym? I want to do it more. I want to like it. 

   OF: Stop thinking so much. Just go. And if you remove the pressure of “I have to do it” vs “I get to do it”, I think that will change your perspective. And there’s like technical stuff, too - never run on a treadmill, which is completely flat on a 0.0 incline. You can hurt you feet & knees. And you could switch it up.

   She shares her experience of running at home instead of outside & watching the Bible series & she ended up running 18 miles while doing that. She encourages to use the time running to spend time with God & ask Him for strength in doing so. 

   Outside of running being good for your health, Olivia says that it should be fun too! “Take the pressures off…Have fun with it & work on endurance & with time the speed will come along”, she says. 

   TFM: Who are your biggest supporters?

   OF: Hubby & the kids.

   Olivia is also an entrepreneur, who together with her best friend, owns a company called Afrikinky. “It’s all natural products from Ghana that are hand crafted…by women in the village in North Ghana”, she explains. They contain butter & oils for the hair & skin. “Our mission has been to help the women in the village, help send their children to school…Ultimately, God-willing, our plan is to build a factory”. She wants to bring forth the product “in its natural form”, without adding preservatives in them. 

   Another goal that Olivia has set for near future is her running London marathon in April 2020, which she is very excited about. She will be doing it with a group that raises money for charity in support of people with disabilities. “It’s a blessing for me!”, she says. 

   TFM: How do you manage all of this?

   OF: God. (laughs)


   To learn more about:

   Afrikinky, click here & here

   Black Girls Run, click here

   London Marathon fundraiser for Team Sense, click here