At the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon, Texas Standard volunteer Megan Jo Olson approached a handful of women and asked them an uncomfortable question: “Have you experienced the stress urinary incontinence?”
The answer from a lot of the women was – “yes.”
What it means is that they’ve unintentionally leaked when laughing, sneezing, exercising or lifting something heavy. The numbers are sort of hard to track down but consider this: the global market for incontinence is $7 billion a year.
In our informal survey – three out of five admitted to being occasionally incontinent.
“Yeah, so it’s been kind of an issue that’s come a little more as I’ve gotten older I think,” Lucia Hunt says.
That’s pretty common. Doctors say the issue does become more prominent as women age. Urinary incontinence is also more likely after women have kids. That’s what this mother of two experienced.
“Every time I sneezed or laughed it was an issue or when I would go work out or do any kind of cross-training. If I did jumping jacks or burpees or certain types of lunges then I would have issues as well,” she says.
That woman actually wouldn’t share her name with us… and a few others also wanted to remain anonymous. They’re not even talking about it with their friends.
“No, no I never have,” one woman says.
“It’s not something that I’ve talked about with my running buddies I guess,” Lucia Hunt says.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s just this really in the shadows issue,” Brooke Solis says.
Solis has five children. She remembers the first time it happened to her.
“I went to a class and did a jumping jack and was like, ‘oh my god.’ And ran out of the class, called my husband, cried the entire way home because I had no idea it was coming because women don’t talk about it,” Solis says.
So what did she do? Stopped doing jumping jacks.
“For 16 years I did low-impact activities,” Solis says. “I did pilates, I did yoga and I sort of got back into shape but I was never in the kind of physical shape that I was before I had children.”
Some women try surgery. Botox is one treatment. Most just wear pads – Solis eventually did – so she could go back to a more intense exercise class.
“You become really aware of this bulge in the back of your shorts or your pants and I don’t want people to notice that I have a pad in the back of my shorts,” Solis says.
Solis says she tried every product on the market and didn’t like any of them. So the Austin mom decided to invent her own. She calls them the “Just Go Girl” pads.
They’re sort of shaped like thong underwear. The absorbent section is concentrated in the front – where Solis says it’s needed. And she says it’s invisible from behind. The idea is to allow women to get going again.
“A long run, a hard workout, a hilarious comedy set, whatever you need,” Solis says.
But the idea is also to get women talking.
“I wanted to start a conversation,” Solis says. “I wanted women to be comfortable with the idea that you have a baby, you go for a run, you pee, you’re horrified and you go get a product so that you can keep doing what you want to do.”
Back at the Austin Marathon… some women were talking…
“I would say it’s a much higher number than most people would realize,” one woman said “I would say maybe one out of two. Maybe one out of four or five women probably have the issue.”
Considering the number of people in Texas age 65 and older will more than double from the year 2000 to 2030 – it appears to be a market worth tapping.