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CEO Julie Smolyansky: Running the NYC Marathon for Maternal Health

Julie Smolyansky with Christy Turlington Burns, getting ready for the NYC Marathon! (Photo courtesy of Julie Smolyansky)

Running a company is hard work. Add marathon training and raising two kids and you've got a challenge. But this Sunday, Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky will run the ING New York City Marathon (her first time racing on the streets of New York!) along with Christy Turlington Burns for Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit that aims to raise awareness for and improve maternal health worldwide. We talked to her about marathon training and why maternal health is such an important issue.

How long have you been a runner? I hated running until I moved to NYC for work for a month in April 2001. I had no time to do fitness classes at the gym, so I started running in Central Park. Then I started to love it. I ran my first marathon in October of that year.

How do you fit in marathon training and workouts on your busy schedule? After having my two daughters, who are now ages 3 and 1, it was important for me to get back in shape. I felt like not working out was hurting my emotional health and physical health. Now I bring the kids in a jogging stroller. It’s fun for them and I get to be an advocate for their health. At first it was hard to find time to work out. It’s usually the first thing that falls off because you think it’s not a necessity. Now I schedule it in my calendar. Just whenever there’s a break in my schedule—an hour to two hours a day, but even 30 minutes can mean a 3-mile run. For more on Smolyansky, her work with Every Mother Counts and her goals for the marathon,

How did you get involved with Every Mother Counts? I met Christy at a conference for social entrepreneurs and we started brainstorming about what we can do as moms. We’re so fortunate to have health care when lots of other women don’t. It was also shocking to find out that our maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is high and that these deaths are preventable. Lifeway made a product, Low-Fat Blueberry Kefir, that is wrapped with the Every Mother Counts logo and the proceeds from that will go towards the cause. Just by buying a healthy drink, you can spread awareness and help other women.

What do you hope to achieve by running the marathon? I want to bring the cause to light and let people know that even here in America, maternal health is an issue. It’s not really on the radar. It’s not just a women’s issue; it’s a human issue. The loss of a mother affects the entire community. For some women in other countries, 26.2 miles is how much they walk to access health care. It’s the deciding factor of whether they live or die.

What do you want others to know about the cause? How can they help? We want women to know that they have choices in their delivery plan and health. Everyone can help just by being more aware and sharing the message. You can also donate to the cause—even just 10 dollars can go a long way—at our CrowdRise page.

Are you ready for the NYC Marathon? I am so excited. I have all this energy—I just want to get out there and go!

Good luck to Julie and Christy and all the ING NYC Marathon runners this weekend!