McPherson Media Group has partnered with Valley Sport to bring you Our Game: Women's Stories Shaping Sport highlighting the brilliant, and often under-appreciated, contributions females of the region make to their sporting clubs and organisations, on and off the field.
Each week a different district female athlete, leader or champion will be highlighted — so make sure you contact MMG or Valley Sport to nominate those around you to be profiled in the series.
This week, Yarrawonga's Megan Wood is featured.
When Megan Wood saw the opportunity to involve more women in her passion of running, she seized it — and Balance Sunrunners was born.
The Yarrawonga personal trainer created the group in early 2018, and by October of the same year Balance Spin Studio became the group's home base — allowing Wood to reach more of the local community.
“As a passionate runner and knowing the physical, mental and social benefits of running, I wanted everyone to experience the highs of running,” Wood said.
“I began to slowly implement run class into my personal training business.
“We would meet at the oval and I would encourage the women, mostly mums with many young toddlers in tow, to run and walk according to my whistle.
“Slowly their fitness gained momentum and their love of running grew too
“I obtained my Recreational Running Coach certificate and also encouraged my husband Cameron to as well.
“We had already set up an informal Facebook group to inform locals of running events, but I had always had a vision of creating something a little more formal where we could encourage the whole community to get involved.
“So we created the Yarrawonga Sunrunners and had around five regular runners who came to our coached running sessions each week.
“We prided ourselves on being an inclusive group, where everyone felt welcome and safe.
“We encouraged runners of all ages and abilities to have a go and guide them to achieve running goals they may never have thought possible.
“Fast forward two years and through joining Balance Spin Studio, we now have anywhere between 10-20 coming to our coached sessions, 90 per cent being female.
“I think females are certainly more social and love having that meeting place with others, to share their running stories together — over coffee after of course.”
The group has not only helped local women increase their fitness levels and improve their health — it has also tackled some major events and ticked off some huge personal milestones.
“Helping other women set goals and watching them achieve them is a true highlight,” Wood said.
“2019 saw us take a large group to Run Melbourne to run the half-marathon, with six women first-timers reaching the finish line on a high.
“But it’s the journey to the start line which is so rewarding.
“The early mornings, the long run days, the preparation. And I’m so proud watching mums especially begin to make themselves a priority again, to organise their world, their family life, so they can train and can do something for themselves.
“Many of the running girls comment on how they run for their mental health, how it improves their mood, how it gives them a sense of purpose and (how beneficial) belonging to a friendly like-minded community (is).”
The mental and physical battle between a runner and a long distance event is what really excites Wood about her chosen sport.
“You can learn so much about yourself when you are training for a marathon,” she said.
“The challenge of training week after week and the load you put upon your body and mind is quite enormous. And to then bring it all together on the day is an unreal experience.
“Crossing the finish line knowing you have ran over 42 km to the best of your ability is an indescribable feeling.
“Running the 2018 Melbourne Marathon within my goal time was amazing (personally), it made the six months of training truly worthwhile.
“Experiencing these highs and wanting others to also feel this is a driving force behind our group.”
And it is no wonder Wood loves running — her idols are some of the best in the business.
“Any run by Cathy Freeman is truly inspiring,” she said.
“Also, and this may be a little weird, but when the great mare Makybe Diva won the (Melbourne) Cup for the third time I literally had tears! How talented was she?”
Wood's running journey began similarly to the fresh faces joining the Balance Sunrunners — and it is why she believes groups like it are so important.
“I moved to Tassie for 18 months and took it up for fitness after having my second child,” she said.
“When I moved to Yarrawonga I joined a great group of women who helped me stay consistent. I learned so much from them — especially Tracy Gillies who coached us and whom I looked up to and aspired to be like.
“They influenced my running journey and encouraged me to run longer distances, something I never thought I would do.
“It is so important for women to be active throughout their life and joining a group is one of the best ways to do that.
“Not only physically, but socially it keeps us connected with others which has a huge impact on our mental health. Not to mention what great role models we can be for our children.
“I think the teenage years are always the hardest to encourage running for fun or fitness for girls.
“If we could somehow educate young women on how important regular activity is for not only physical but more importantly mental health, I think this would help.”
The Sunrunners are aiming to tackle a virtual running event at the end of the month, while Wood is also helping one of her children reach a lofty goal.
“Our 11-year-old son has committed to running or walking 3 km every day in April, so we have a routine where we will complete this every day,’ she said.
“We have also created a Facebook group for this and he has inspired many and kept many accountable. He has also raised over $1300 for Beyond Blue.
“We have also created a virtual running event on May 31 and within our Balance Sunrunner Facebook group, people can keep accountable and engaged by logging their running or walking kilometres.”
More on the Our Game series