Food, a tiny eatery in the Rancho Park neighborhood of West LA, boasts my favorite pancakes. Handmade cards and local jams line the walls, as do daily specials written in marker on giant white sheets of paper. Sitting on a couch in front of the pastry case, I sipped my coffee as I waited for Alex.
Enter a five foot ten blonde wearing royal blue. Tall and bright, Alex is a presence when she enters any room. Just returned from Boston, (having run in the Boston Marathon a few days prior), Alex walked into Food looking refreshed and happy.
Alex sat down and immediately noticed my pink floral notebook. She used to have the exact same one, and in it each day she would write three things for which she was grateful.
I met Alex in May of 2016—although it feels like I’ve known her longer. Perhaps it’s the time we’ve spent together exercising that has led to that sentiment. Whether yoga, hiking, or boot camp, physical activity makes me feel keenly alive, and the experiences Alex and I have shared are often memorable.
Alex is a Certified Financial Planner at UBS. She received a B.S. in Civil-Environmental Engineering and Economics from Duke (2010), and a Certificate in Personal Financial Planning from UCLA (2015).
Alex and I met at Food, however, to discuss Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that inspires girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running.[i] Alex has worked with the organization extensively for the past six years, where her motto to her students is: “You don’t have to run. You can hop, skip, or jump—just keep moving forward.”
Girls on the Run teaches young girls life skills through a course that integrates running. Girls thus receive the benefit of personal development and physical activity all at once.
For example, during her tenure, Alex has taught girls how to deal with issues like gossiping. As a coach, Alex once demonstrated the mess a rumor can make by having her students squeeze toothpaste out of its tube and then try to put it back. Once the toothpaste is out, it is out, the girls accepted. Like a rumor, they could not put the toothpaste back from where it came.
The rumors lesson incorporated running too. After discussing the harmful nature of rumors, and ways in which the girls might avoid engaging in behavior that would hurt other people, the coaches set up the running portion—cleverly designed such that it was not necessarily perceived by the girls as a workout. Girls would run from coach to coach, each coach telling the girls a different rumor; when asked by the next coach what the girl had learned from the preceding coach, the girl would practice techniques for avoiding gossip, e.g., by explaining she could not talk about it or discussing something else.
Girls on the Run originated in North Carolina, where Alex attended college. Shortly after college, when Alex moved from North Carolina to Boston, one of her old roommates from Duke suggested Alex might be interested in working with Girls on the Run in Boston.[ii]
Alex accordingly sought out a Boston chapter. She spent four seasons in Boston, teaming up with other coaches. (Her co-coaches became her best friends. Two ended up being in her wedding party years later.)
A favorite memory of her time in Boston includes her participation at the 5k for eight to thirteen year olds in May 2011. She worked at a crazy hair station prior to the 5k—a booth where girls would have their hair done and accessorized to pump them up for the run to come.
When Alex moved from Boston to Los Angeles, her hometown, she sought to spread awareness of the organization here. Last year, Alex started a program at the elementary school she attended. She has now run two seasons at her old school. (Given Alex stood five foot nine in sixth grade, she would have appreciated a program such as Girls on the Run to ease that awkward stage of her life.)
The Girls on the Run program costs $250 per girl; however, the organization offers scholarships for girls unable to pay the cost. Fundraising constitutes the organization’s primary source of income to pay such scholarships. In order to raise money for Girls on the Run, Alex ran in the Boston Marathon this year.
Alex began training for the marathon after Thanksgiving 2016. I often heard progress reports throughout her training. At the eight to nine mile stage, she ran through the snow in Boston. When she had reached 19- and 20-mile runs, Alex found herself on The Strand in Hermosa and Manhattan Beach.
Alex completed the Boston Marathon in four hours and 23 minutes.
Along the route, Alex was offered goodies ranging from blackberries to beer, passed signs such as “you’re running better than our government” and “run like United wants your seat,” and even had the privilege of her own cheering section—spotted by their identifying Mylar balloon, a Frozen balloon.
Of the marathon, Alex said, “It’s not just a run.” Elaborating further, she noted, “It was the toughest mental and physical challenge I have faced… The crowd was screaming all 26 miles from Hopkinton to Boston and the city was full of energy. What a memorable day.”
Alex raised enough money for 26 girls to participate in Girls on the Run by running the Boston Marathon.
Back in LA, Alex is looking forward to her next Girls on the Run event this June. Last March Alex started Friends on the Run, an auxiliary board in LA that hosts three to four events per year.[iii] Alex noted that “in LA it feels like you have to be running as fast as you can, as fast as everyone else around you,” and thus her motto that you can hop, skip, or jump, so long as you keeping moving forward, is ever important to emphasize.
Alex intends to continue moving forward with her “forever” cause. In one lesson Alex teaches, the girls and coaches stand in a circle and throw a ball of string to one another. One by one, each comes to hold a part of the string. Once everyone is holding a piece, the girls take turns tugging on it. With each tug, numbers of other girls feel their hands being pulled. A beautiful illustration of our interconnected world, the girls learn to look beyond themselves, and to remain ever cognizant of the impact each action of theirs may have on those around them.
[ii] At the time, Girls on the Run had only four teams (it now has over 30).
[iii] Past events have included collaborations with SoulCycle and Yogaworks. The next event will be Boxing at the Beach on June 11, 2017 (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/boxing-for-charity-girls-on-the-run-la-x-boxunion-tickets-34611162920).