In 2017, Samsung and Under Armour teamed up to help athletes better understand the importance of tracking their activity, nutrition and sleep. This partnership culminated in Under Armour health and fitness apps being integrated with the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro, allowing users to log exercise, meals and sleep directly on the wearable. As part of the partnership, we invited 12 athletes to Portland, Oregon, to challenge their physical and mental capacity and encourage them push past their comfort zones. One of those athletes was Paige Gaines, assistant director of the South Bay division of L.A.-based run crew, Electric Flight Crew (EFC).
As an assistant director of one of the biggest run crews in the country, you’ll find Paige Gaines at nearly every Electric Flight Crew workout, but she wasn’t always an avid attendee.
“It took me about two years to finally go to an Electric Flight Crew workout, which I had heard about through my friend, Amanda,” admits Paige. “It’s one of those things where, you hear about something, and you want to go, but you just never get around to it. But when I was eventually looking for a run club and knew two other people interested, we started together.”
At the time, Gaines was going through a rough time and she thought a run club seemed like a good way for her to help herself. Earlier that year, Amanda’s father had been diagnosed with a brain tumor that eventually took his life.
“In EFC, you have to give inspirational speeches, and mine was always about Amanda’s dad,” says Gaines. “He used to be an Ironman, but couldn’t compete anymore because of his tumor. He pushed me to be the best I could be.”
In the midst of Gaines’ effort to support her friend, another tragic diagnosis hit even closer to home. On May 2, 2017, Gaines’ twin sister, Taylor, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). “It came out of nowhere,” says Gaines. “One day she was at a country concert, and the next she was in the hospital being diagnosed with cancer.”
Gaines admits that being the twin without a diagnosis left her with a huge feeling of guilt. How can only one of us have cancer, after being twins for 27 years, Gaines asked herself. It seemed entirely unfair.
So when Taylor’s hair started falling out from the chemotherapy and it was time for her to shave it off — as opposed to enduring the pain of losing strands little by little each day — Gaines shaved her head with Taylor. “Of course I was going to do it,” says the L.A. native. “She’s my twin. If she has no hair, I have no hair.”
But being a woman without hair was a much harder reality than this 27-year-old had even imagined it could be. Gaines admits she couldn’t look at herself in the mirror for a couple of weeks after shaving her head and felt like she didn’t know who she was. That pain, on top of everything else, was a struggle she didn’t even see coming. But she vowed if Taylor had no hair involuntarily, Paige would voluntarily have no hair.
“My sister appreciates it and she hates her short hair, too,” says Gaines, who admits she’s more comfortable with it now that it has been short for some time. “I would do it again in a second.”
While having short hair has given her time to be more comfortable with who she is, inside and out, having no hair is still a reminder her sister has a long way to go, with months of extensive treatment ahead.
“Everyone always wants to talk about my hair — every single person brings it up each time I see them,” she says. “It’s a constant reminder that my sister has cancer. And I’m so over that being the topic of conversation.”
When Gaines needs to escape these conversations, she finds herself with the Electric Run Crew. She says running and working out has become a way for her to release stress and be among good people who want the best for her. Plus, having a drink after workouts during “no shower happy hour” helps Gaines get her mind off reality. She has formed friendships with these individuals who she otherwise wouldn’t have known. And to her, having a community in her hometown of L.A., which can feel really big sometimes, is just what she needs.
“The world is a crazy place — politically, cancer-wise,” says Gaines. “Not everyone agrees on how things should go in your life, whether you should eat meat or be a vegetarian, for example. But the one goal of EFC is to build a good community of people all at the same place in life. We don’t care what your political affiliation is. It’s about becoming a better athlete and a better version of yourself and having that one common goal, despite whatever else is going on in the outside world.”
Gaines was able to meet another new group of active individuals in early November when she went to Portland with Samsung and Under Armour. She was asked to participate in dragon boating, running, biking and dining on exotic foods all in one day. “I’ve never done anything like that in my life before — it’s the most I’ve ever worked out in a day,” she says. “But I loved it, and I loved meeting everyone.”
She also found herself inspired by the host of the event, Colin O’Brady, a professional endurance athlete, rock climber and professional speaker, who faced a devastating burn injury that left him with second- and third-degree burns covering his entire body. Following extensive surgeries and lots of rehab, O’Brady went on to set two world records for the Explorers Grand Slam summit and Seven Summits speed record. O’Brady challenged the athletes at the event to create their own personal goal, and Gaines came up with hers after the trip was complete. “I decided I’m going to run a 10K in every state,” she says. “I’m going to buy a map and put a pin in each state until I complete them all.”
Gaines doesn’t care how long it takes her. For her, running isn’t about being the best or the fastest; it’s about just getting out there and doing it. “I didn’t always love running, but being a part of a run club has shown me that it’s OK not to have run a marathon, or a 6-minute mile,” she says. “It’s about coming out for a run, meeting people and enjoying a beer with them after, before you have to return to your job and your life tomorrow.”
Written by Amy Schlinger, a New York-based fitness and health writer and editor whose work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Fitness, Shape, Muscle & Fitness HERS, Pilates Style, Max Sports & Fitness and more. Check her out at www.amyschlinger.com.