Neither scientists or my parents ever told me that I needed to play with dolls, or that I needed to behave a certain way because of my gender. They saw that I was a curious kid and encouraged me to play outside in the dirt, to move, to play sports, to explore. They saw my curious spirit and encouraged me to pursue a career in chemistry. They saw my need to explore and encouraged me to study abroad and live overseas. 

My mother was in the Peace Corps, so she saw the value in travel and learning who you are, by living somewhere else. My father, a Ph.D. scientist, encouraged me to take a chance on running while I was in graduate school and deciding whether or not to continue with my Ph.D.  

It’s by their example that I’ve learned to be brave, to be unapologetic about my passions and deliberate with my choices. I think, being a strong woman—a strong person—requires not only strong female role models, but strong male role models too. We all need to find the people that don’t see you any differently because of your gender. Instead, they see your attributes as a human being and push you to be the best version of yourself. 

When I think about my career as a runner, I’m brought back to two people: my middle school run club coach, Jim Kruse and my good friend and mentor, J’ne Day-Lucore. 

J’ne Day-Lucore and Me

I’ll start with middle school. I was not a cool kid. I was far more interested in catching bugs and playing sports (beating the boys, actually), than fitting in or being “cool.” I also really liked school, so when I wasn’t outside getting dirty, I was lost in the library with science books. 

Me, dressed up for Kindergarten career day as an entomologist.

My older sister was the cool kid and a great athlete at that. She would go to run club every day after school, and because I was fairly athletic, my parents encouraged me to go too. That’s when I met Jim Kruse. He was the math teacher at my school and absolutely loved running. 

At first, I didn’t see the point of running unless you were chasing something (like a tennis ball), but with Mr. Kruse, he brought it all to life. He created community out of our little run club. We met up on Saturdays for 5km races that were themed.We got to wear costumes and enjoy running together. He made running fun for me. I looked forward to going even though I wasn’t very good and would get easily distracted (especially if I saw a bug). To Mr. Kruse it didn’t matter. To him, the kid having the most fun was the best that day. I took that with me years later, when I started to run, and have never forgotten the importance of fun, playfulness, and to just run because you like it.

Jim Kruse and I after a local 5k race in Fort Collins, CO.

J’ne Day-Lucore is another important mentor in my life. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She is the embodiment of strength, persistence, joy, and the deliberate intention to follow what you love and, most importantly, to never apologize for being yourself. I first met J’ne when I was in graduate school. I had taken a break from running to pursue collegiate tennis and with my rigorous schedule in graduate school, I was needing an outlet. I found this run club about a mile from my house (in Denver at the time), which started at 5am three days a week. I showed up to my first run, at 5am, one cold, dark, Monday morning. I was 24 and had no idea what I was doing. Since Mr. Kruse, and the Kruse Kruisers, I knew I could run, but J’ne and the women in this running group were serious runners. These women were training.  

Photo Credit: Luke Nelson

J’ne is a multiple time qualifier in the Olympic trial marathon and she held multiple records at prestigious mountain races around the US (Pikes Peak ascent and Mount Washington ascent to name a few). When I met J’ne, she was in her early 50’s and still training and competing at a high level. I started to come regularly to the run club and J’ne became my first coach.  

Photo credit: Luke Webster

J’ne coached me to my first road marathon.While training for that, she introduced me to trail running. I remember the first time we went on trial; she just didn’t stop running uphill. She continued to encourage me as I got faster and introduced me to more and more people in the trail running world. She taught me to problem solve and to find the positive side when things don’t go your way—in life and during a race. I marvelled at her ability to maintain contagious optimism and her will to achieve any goal she picked throughout her life. 

On a group training run with J’ne Day on the Manitou Springs Incline.

J’ne’s constant ability to push her limits, in sport and life, is what inspired me the most. In addition to J’ne’s athletic accomplishments and records (she was inducted into the 2019 Colorado Running Hall of Fame, where I was honored to introduce her), she’s a mother of three and the sole breadwinner for her family with her career as an Engineer. What I learned most from J’ne, was not from her accomplishments, but from her unyielding spirit—her relentless tenacity to keep pushing forward with an infectious smile, no matter what life brings.

A powerful mentor can be life changing, and as a women, I’ve needed both the strong men and women in my life to show me, encourage me and insist that it’s not what I look like that matters, but rather, the determination I possess, the power of my character, and the persistence I bring every day as I work toward achieving my goals. 

My book, Out and Back, is available April 6th. You can preorder now.

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