how facebook changed my lifeLike many in my generation, I’ve been slow to catch on to social media.  Until recently, I was more of a “lurker” than participant. I used Twitter to research articles about my profession and Facebook to snoop on old classmates and friends.  In short, I didn’t get the “social” part, and I didn’t see its value.

But all that has changed.

It started last fall when a colleague invited me to join her group on Facebook.  Ann and her sister-in-law Laurie created a forum for fitness-oriented women to share their exercise goals and motivate each other. Since I was hoping to up my fitness regime, the timing was perfect.  I told Ann to count me in

Now called “SELF” (or Sisters Engaged in Lifetime Fitness), the group consists of several dozen women from all walks of life, ranging in age from 33 to 65. Our members include a pediatrician, ophthalmologist, corporate executive, wellness instructor, retired teacher, and university administrator.  Connected to either Ann or Laurie “in real life,” we hail from all over the country, from Morgantown to Albany, NY, to Boulder, CO.

The “rules of engagement” are simple: exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 243 days a year; post updates on your progress; and work toward a major fitness challenge each year.

My initial challenge was to run a half-marathon.  Each week, I dutifully posted my mileage as I worked up to 13.2 miles. The group’s “Keep it up” comments encouraged me to push past the pain and boredom of training and finish the race.

But last winter, when a viral infection triggered sudden hearing loss in my right ear, SELF became much more than a fitness forum; it turned into a lifeline. Suffering from vertigo so severe I could barely walk, let alone run, I shared my symptoms and fears with the group, and they talked back.

Their genuine concern and unflagging support kept me searching for a cure and hopeful that I’d get better.

The two physicians in the group offered medical advice, and I actually spoke to one of them by phone. “Dr. Karen” from Shreveport, LA, convinced me I needed to find a top specialist — which I did, thanks to her nudge.   Ann, the woman who originally enlisted me, called every day to see how I was doing.

After I got better and worked my way back to being healthy and fit, I saw my relationship with SELF in a different light.  My engagement became more personal, and more meaningful.  These far-away strangers had indeed become my “sisters.”

Soon others opened up about their own struggles — with obesity, diabetes, bad knees, broken bones, and heart disease.  They also shared personal milestones: college graduations, family reunions, children’s engagements, and a trip back “home” for one member and her two adopted daughters from Honduras.

Now, we’re even getting together in real life, planning races and reunions in cities where one or more of us live.  Now I feel like I know these women, and they know me. My circle has expanded and my heart has too.

I finally “get’ social media.  It’s a conduit to real-time conversation and connection, allowing you to learn from the experiences and wisdom of others.  And if you’re lucky, it can be a springboard to forming even deeper relationships — those that enhance your community and enrich your life.

I’ll see you on Facebook.

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