On the morning of Nina’s funeral, I was angry at the world. I indignantly shed the full-length leg brace that I had religiously worn for the previous two months and set out for a feeble jog. I wobbled through five minutes of a lopsided crawl before I broke out openly sobbing in the middle of Rock Creek Park. That would be the new normal for the next few months.
I flatly rejected that tragedy would define the end of Nina’s story. She was too good a person--too intelligent, too kind, too loyal--to see that disappear. And as I considered how to honor Nina’s legacy more globally, I knew a small part of that had to begin with me. Nina loved running. Though she came to the sport later in life, she took to running with an unmitigated zeal. In a small, personal way, I knew that I could honor Nina by carrying on with the sport despite any setbacks.
Over the following year, I threw myself into physical therapy and doctor's visits. I ultimately forewent surgery and accepted that, while I would be able to run moving forward, my future in soccer/skiing/tennis/any lateral sport would be over. When I grew weary or began to pity myself, I would often think of Nina and channel her courage to keep going.
And so I trained. I continued running weekly with the Georgetown Running Club (GRC). I entered road races that I wasn’t fit for and logged slower times than ever before. At the same time, I threw myself behind ways to publically remember Nina. I began organizing a memorial 5K at Georgetown University with GRC and the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies--Nina’s graduate program--as a way to bring the community together.
Before her death, Nina was preparing to move to Jordan on a Fulbright grant to study the growing women’s athletics movement in Jordan and the broader Middle East. She aspired to create opportunities for women and girls to participate in running as a way to foster women’s empowerment. And to be honest, when Nina first pitched me this idea in the fall of 2014, I silently thought she was crazy. However, it turns out that she was really on to something. In the aftermath of her passing, I began to meet more of Nina’s friends both in the United States and abroad in Jordan. Without fail, people spoke of her kindness, superb command of the Arabic language, and true love for Jordan and its people. It seemed like there was a genuine desire to do something to really honor her life, and this sentiment would ultimately become the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls.
In March 2016, we held the 5K race at Georgetown, which helped reach the final fundraising goal for an endowed scholarship through the Arab studies program in Nina’s name. Similarly, that weekend launched the official start of the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls in Amman. At the end of five consecutive Saturday meetings, nearly 25 girls would participate in the camp, which focused on running and healthy living and included inspirational female speakers, snacks, and games. The camp was organized as a partnership between leaders in the Jordanian running community as well as Fulbright students in Amman. In late March, organizers decided to host our own race for the girls as a capstone event after another race was cancelled. Notably, this would be the first girls-only race in Jordan. I had previously booked a ticket to compete in that now-cancelled race, but fortunately the plans aligned and away I went for the Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls. To my astonishment, nearly 70 girls showed up to Sports City, the premier sports facility in Amman, for a festive race with esteemed speakers, music, and community support. It was fantastic seeing the girls’ pride as they showed off their finishers medals. Equally rewarding was seeing the positive support from mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers as they cheered on the runners to victory.