2018 Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls: Week 2 Recap

By Nicole Khamis
Nicole Khamis is a Fulbright scholar in Amman Jordan, where she teaches English at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

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The second week of the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp in Amman, Jordan went off without a hitch as we welcomed the all 40 participants to continue learning and training! With the second week of training for the race underway, the girls were able to receive their shirts for the upcoming race, which they wore and will continue to wear throughout the camp. After receiving their new shirts, the participants of the camp got to business: short sprints, stretching, and light jogs were all in order to prepare for the upcoming race. Led by our all-female coaching team of Ru’a Al- Abweh and Rawda Hamadneh, the girls learned how to pace themselves while running, appropriate exercises for running, and the importance of continuing to work hard to achieve your goals. 

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In line with the mission of the camp, which aims to elevate and support females, our new mentorship program was inaugurated by the hard work of our volunteers who served as mentors to the participants of the camp. This launch of this program is thanks in large part to a grant that we received from the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. First, this mentorship program allowed the participants of the camp to get more individualized attention towards running and exercise by splitting up campers into small groups. In addition, during journaling time, girls would talk about goals they want to accomplish and the importance of running. Small group discussions were encouraged and led by volunteers. 

The camp ended with an great discussion led by Yasmin, a strength trainer in Amman who taught the girls strength training exercises to build muscle. 

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We look forward to continuing to empower girls through education and exercise, and are counting down the days to the race here in Amman! 

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2018 Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls: Week 1 Recap

After much anticipation, year three of the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls is off to a great start. Our team has been looking forward to welcoming this group of girls to camp, and week 1 did not disappoint. We were inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of our nearly 30 campers. This year, we were joined by Nina’s dear friend and sister in Jordan, Hanoia Ali, to help inspire and lead our group. Similarly, we’re grateful for our continued partnership with Reclaim Childhood (RC), a nonprofit that empowers refugee women and girls through sport. With coaching from Hanoia, RC leaders Hanan and Ru'a, and nearly 15 volunteers, we were energized by the spirit of the camp. As a special twist, this year a group of older girls who’ve participated as campers in the past registered to support the camp as volunteers. We’re really excited to see this mentorship blossom. A big focus of this year’s camp is creating a community of mentorship, whereby girls ages 15 and 16 have an opportunity to lead and support younger campers.

Camp started with an introduction to Nina's story, her legacy, and her passion for the Jordanian running community. Campers and volunteers were then invited to introduce themselves, and our coaches led the girls in a quick icebreaker game to encourage community-building. In this game, girls would run into the circle, name an activity they had never tried before, and then a fellow camper could run into the circle if she had tried the activity. The runners had a blast and enjoyed hearing each other’s stories.

Then it was time to run! The group warmed up with some short sprints, stretching, and easy running. Coaches and volunteers encouraged the girls to do their best and cheered them on. Seeing coaches and volunteers positioned at the end of the run, the girls were even inspired to sprint to the finish line!

After our warmups and training, the girls headed to a shaded area to sit down, enjoy a snack, and relax. During this time the participants were introduced to a ‘race visualization’  activity they’ll do every week of the camp leading up to the competition. Each participant was given a notebook with coloring pencils, which they used to write three goals for themselves and draw a picture of themselves crossing the finish line. This activity reinforced the importance of setting goals and instilled in the girls the importance of reflection.

Camp ended with an inspirational talk by Hanoia, who discussed the importance of exercise and values of staying active. Hanoi inspired the girls to overcome obstacles and continue to work hard. This is a lesson we hope will resonate with campers through the coming weeks as we prepare for the big race.

After a great start, we can’t wait to see what next week brings!

Continuing Nina’s legacy: Getting Ready for 2018 Camp and Race

By Nicole Khamis
Nicole Khamis is part of this year's leadership team and teaching English in Amman, Jordan as a 2017-2018 Fulbright Scholar.

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The first time that my Jordan Fulbright cohort and I heard Nina Brekelman’s story was almost a year ago when we gathered together for the first time in Washington, D.C. The Fulbright Program is an international exchange opportunity for study and research that works to foster intercultural exchange and mutual understanding through different cultures. A key way that Fulbright achieves this is by sending individuals abroad who are passionate about doing this exact thing- and Nina was no exception. Her passing came shortly before she embarked on a Fulbright Fellowship in Jordan to research the experience of female distance runners.

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Nina’s legacy is inherent in the dream of William J. Fulbright, who established the Fulbright Scholarship after World War II to bring a divided world together. Her passion for learning about other cultures, engaging deeply with local communities in Mexico, Egypt, and Jordan, and her love for empowering marginalized communities, shined through in everything she did. Nina’s love for running, Arabic, and her infectious smile are still remembered by the many she worked with and impacted here in Jordan - and we are committed to continuing her legacy here in Amman by organizing the third annual camp and race for girls founded in Nina’s honor.

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The running camp, which will begin Saturday, will once again provide instruction on running training and techniques to young girls ages 8 to 14 to promote healthy living and self confidence. The experience will culminate May 5 at Sports City with a race in which the girls can show what they learned throughout the camp.  

We also are very excited this year to implement a girls leadership program that will give local girls an opportunity to mentor camp participants, and look forward to providing an update on this endeavor in the weeks ahead of us.

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Establishing a running camp in Jordan as a way to empower girls was a vision that Nina put forth for her Fulbright proposal. So, while the Fulbright Team based in Amman has been busy planning this year’s camp, Nina has been on our minds. Through the camp, we hope to empower and uplift other women in hopes of making a lasting impact on the lives of young girls in Jordan.

Announcing Year 3 Dates for the Nina Brekelmans Camp and Race for Girls

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We are excited to announce the dates for the third annual Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls and Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls in Amman, Jordan!

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The camp will be held on four consecutive Saturdays - April 7, April 14, April 21 and April 28 - at Sports City, Amman's premier urban park and athletic facility. The culminating event - a 3k race - will be held the following weekend, May 5, at Sports City.

The camp and race continues to grow with the support of Nina’s family and friends, the U.S. Fulbright program, and our Jordanian friends and partners - including Sports City, Unlimited Distances, Boost, Reclaimed Childhood, Jordan Squash Federation and Ruwaad. Together we strive to advance Nina’s vision to promote self-confidence, leadership, and well-being among young women in Jordan through running.

Camp participants can register here. If you would like to volunteer, you can register here. To follow along, sign up here for our mailing list. And if you’d like to help contribute to our growth, please consider donating. The Nina Brekelmans Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Washington, DC. All donations are tax-deductible.

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Announcing the 2017 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient, Ghadeer Awwad

The 2017-2018 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Ghadeer Awwad. Congratulations Ghadeer! 

Photo courtesy of Twitter

About Ghadeer

Ms. Ghadeer Awwad is the 2017-2018 Recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Endowed Memorial Scholarship at Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Arab Studies (MAAS) program. Ghadeer is originally from Nablus, Palestine and graduated from Earlham College in 2016. Her research interests at MAAS include women’s empowerment, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and human rights, and Palestinian society under Israeli occupation.

At the age of sixteen, Ghadeer Awwad was selected to represent her home country of Palestine at Pearson United World College in Canada, a two-year, pre-university school for students from over 100 countries who live, study and learn together while pursuing the International Baccalaureate. Leaving home at a young age allowed Ghadeer to expand her horizons and develop her identity as a Palestinian Arab woman. After graduating from Pearson College, Ghadeer joined the Union of Palestinian Women Committees as a member and volunteer in Nablus, Palestine. Being part of UPWC provided Ghadeer the opportunity to work closely with women from her own society and to contribute in the national struggle to establish an independent Palestinian State. In addition, hearing women voice their experiences showed Ghadeer the need to take a more critical approach to addressing gender issues in her community.

Following her work in Palestine, Ghadeer returned to North America to attend Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. At Earlham, Ghadeer double-majored in International Studies and Human Development, a combination that enabled her to study public policy with an eye toward issues of social justice. Ghadeer focused her academic research on truth recovery and transitional justice in post-conflict societies and on Palestinian women’s engagement in national resistance movements. During her undergraduate career Ghadeer took a gap semester to work with the Drama, Diversity, and Development project (DDD), which uses culture to promote diversity and challenge discrimination against minorities in the MENA region. Working with DDD provided Ghadeer with further opportunities to engage with women activists and civil-society experts fighting for equality in the MENA region.

Ghadeer aspires to work in the advocacy field and to continue working alongside disadvantaged women in areas affected by war and conflict, such as her native Palestine. To achieve this goal, Ghadeer plans to concentrate her graduate work in the MAAS program on women and development in the MENA region.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible!

-Biography courtesy of Georgetown University

Announcing: Memorial Fun Run at Dartmouth College (June 17)

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In memory of Nina, her Dartmouth teammates have organized a memorial fun run during their upcoming Dartmouth 5-year reunion. Thank you to Rocco Pallin and Chrissy Suppino for organizing! From Rocco and Chrissy: 

As many of you know, our fellow alumna Nina Brekelmans ’12 tragically passed away in June of 2015. Greatly accomplished, driven, and humble, Nina was determined to make a difference in every facet of her life.

In her honor, her fellow Women’s Track and Field ‘12s are organizing a memorial run on Saturday, June 17. We invite everyone in Hanover celebrating reunions to join us on Memorial Field at 9 am, where we’ll run one ceremonial lap around the track, gather for a photo, and the ead north from the athletic facilities for a four-mile run through Pine Park. AL unning paces are welcome!

Please sign up ahead of time so we can send the run details and updates in case of poor weather. Contact Rocco Pallin (rspallin@gmail.com) or Chrissy Supino (christinamsupino@gmail.com) with questions! 

Website link: http://ninabrekelmansmemorial.org/2017-dartmouth/

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Saturday, June 17, 2017

9:00 am: Gather on Memorial Field for a lap around the track and photo

Afterwards: Join for a four-mile run through Pine Park

Race Recap: 2017 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls

By Lilly Frost

Lilly Frost is part of the Fulbright leadership team for 2017 Nina Brekelmans Running Camp and Race for Girls. Lilly has spent the past year in Jordan conducting research for her PhD dissertation. 

Our race day—the exciting culmination of our four-week running camp—kicked off with about fifty local and expat volunteers gearing up for the day. After collecting their race-day t-shirts and some breakfast snacks, the volunteers helped mark and prepare the 3-kilometer race course for the girls. These preparations included a mid-way water station because of the day’s unusually high temperatures (which was a big hit as the girls chugged the water down and dramatically tossed the bottles aside while racing past!).

As the course came together, the participants started arriving, including about 20 girls from Irbid, five girls from the Ghor Valley (northern part of the Jordan Valley), and 45 from East and West Amman, many of whom are refugees. The diverse group of girls warmed up, chatted, and tried on their race-day t-shirts. In the background, a DJ provided by Sports City played music and family members bustled about taking pictures and drinking tea. The special attendance of Farah Hashem, Tamara Armoush, Georgia Cottle, and Hanoia Ali—all award-winning runners in Jordan—helped boost the girls’ energy at the start line.

Just before the race began officials from Sports City, including Dr. Atef, arrived to make brief speeches, wish the girls well, and take pictures with the girls as well as Nina’s family. Then, with three loud horn bellows, Captain Waleed from Sports City’s Squash Federation started the race. The girls took off at a sprinting pace as the crowd clapped and cheered. During the race, the volunteers along the course helped keep the girls on the correct path and provide encouragement. 

At the finish line, volunteers worked meticulously to track each girl’s time by quickly pulling off their bib tags and keeping them in their finishing order. Then, the Brekelmans, including some of their extended family, placed a medal around each girl’s neck and congratulated them on completing the race. Afterward, the girls trotted off to cool down with water and apples.

Once Coaches Ibrahim and Sweity had tallied up the girls’ times, they led a sun-filled ceremony on the steps of the Squash Federation. The ceremony’s speakers included: Nina’s father, Nico Brekelmans; Nina Brekelmans Memorial Foundation President, Mary Grace Pellegrini; Executive Director of the Binational Fulbright Commission in Jordan, Alain McNamara; and Sports City Public Relations and Media Manager, Laith Al Majali. One of the volunteers, Anas Yousef, helped translate each speech into Arabic or English for the Jordanian and American audiences. These speeches highlighted Nina’s commitment to running and Arabic as well as delivered one central message: “Keep running!”

After the speeches, camp and race co-organizer, Matthew Liston, along with Coaches Sweity and Ibrahim distributed trophies to the top three girls in each age group (8–10 and 11–14 years old). The girls posed proudly, with trophies in hand, for pictures on top of the numbered podiums as the ceremony wrapped up—after which, many of the other girls ascended the podiums for their own personal photos!

The race festivities concluded with an intimate welcome reception thrown by Captain Waleed, on behalf of the Squash Federation, for the Brekelmans family. Over coffee, tea, and cookies, the Brekelmans, Sports City officials, and event organizers discussed the day’s events, running, and Nina’s legacy. Overall, both the camp and race ended on a successful, upbeat note, highlighting this year’s achievements as well as next year’s ambitions.

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Congratulations!

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A MAJOR congratulations to all of our runners at today's Nina Brekelmans Race For Girls! We are so proud of you! In addition to runners from Amman, we were honored to welcome girls from south Jordan and Irbid. You all rock.

Throughout the camp Reclaim Childhood and Ruwwad | رواد التنمية have been indispensable partners. They do amazing work with refugees and youth across Jordan. A large portion of our campers are involved in these two programs, so please take time to check out their work!

Thanks, as always, to our sponsors at نادي مدينة الحسين للشباب/ Al-Hussein Youth City ClubFulbright Jordanمسافات بلا حدود Unlimited DistancesBOOST, and Siniora AlQuds - سنيورة القدس.

And a special thank you to today's volunteers and coaches. Full blog on the race to follow! 

Mabrook!

Race Details: 2017 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls

2017 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls

DETAILS

What: 3K running race for girls ages 8-14

When: April 22, 2017 - registration starts at 9:00 AM, race starts at 10:00 AM with awards to follow 

Where: Al-Hussein Youth City (Sports City) near the Squash Courts (Gate 6)

Registration: Registration is free, and you can sign up at the race 

Awards: Awards will be given to the top 3 girls in each division. We'll have tshirts and medals for all participants. Water will be handed out on the course and at the finish line. We'll 

We are thankful that Sport City has once again agreed to be our presenting sponsor. Likewise, we're grateful for support and backing from Fulbright, Unlimited Distances, BOOST, and the Embassy in Amman. 

For more details, follow along with our Facebook page. Good luck to all of our runners, and remember to stay hydrated for energy. See you tomorrow! 

Running for Nina: Loss and Redemption at the Boston Marathon

This Monday, April 17, 2017, you can find me toeing the line in Hopkinton for the 121st Boston Marathon--specifically wave 2, corral 4, bib 11281. For many people in Massachusetts, they may feel that running the Boston Marathon is their birthright. I will one up that to say that in many ways I owe my actual birth to the Boston Marathon as my parents first began spending time together when my mother was training for her first Boston Qualifier. Running with a cute Louisville medical student seemed like a good way to drop some extra time. She ultimately ran 3:17 to qualify with my dad pacing her through the last 15 miles, and--as they say--the rest was history.  

Over the course of their running careers, my parents competed in a combined five and a half Boston Marathons. When the 100th Boston rolled around, both knew they would want to be part of this monumental event, and they were deliberate to register early qualifying marks. Their passion and pride for this race left an indelible impression on my six-year-old mind. As Patriot’s Day approached, Make Way for Ducklings was in heavy rotation for bedtime reading requests, and on race day, I happily shared with my kindergarten teacher (who was a runner) that my parents were competing in the 100th Boston marathon. That pride was enough to overcome some sheepish embarrassment when she shared this fact with the entire class at morning announcements.  

This Monday it’s my turn to race and my parents’ turn to cheer. I’m so proud to have them here with me to support my efforts to join the family “Boston Club.” As race day draws closer, I realize that I haven’t just been training for the Boston marathon for the past few months; I’ve been preparing for this practically my whole life. And as rewarding as this milestone is, it is not without a dose of unshakable sadness.

This April is approaching the two-year anniversary of the death of my good friend and teammate, Nina Brekelmans, who passed away in a Washington, DC accident. Her death left me devastated, angry, and deeply in despair.  At the same time, I had been robbed of my usual way of coping with sadness--through running--as I had torn my ACL months before in a non-contact soccer injury. I was broken physically and emotionally, and more than ever I longed for the therapeutic rhythm of running to help me find clarity and process the unimaginable. And yet I could barely walk.

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.

I returned from Jordan with a renewed resolve to see the camp and race continue. I was also inspired by the grit of our campers and knew that it was time for me to take the next step in my own running comeback. I would need a goal to sustain me through these challenges, and so it seemed like the time to chase the ultimate dream: I would qualify for the Boston marathon. Between April and June, I buckled down and trained, and in late June, I finished second at the Bay of Fundy International Marathon in Maine with a time of 3:20. I was going to Boston.

In the months ahead, things picked up for the camp and race as well. We incorporated as the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Foundation and applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status. The Foundation raised funds and was awarded a State Department grant to double the size of the camp and race. And all the while, I trained--though maybe not as much as I needed to.

Saturday, April 15 marked the final day of 2017 Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls. This year, our runners represented the full diversity of Jordanian society, including a large portion from refugee backgrounds. The campers diligently trained and learned weekly about nutrition, strength training, self-confidence, and role models. They heard from amazing runners in Jordan and the United States, including American Olympian Abbey D’Agostino, and enjoyed downtime with snacks and creative activities.

On Monday, April 17, I’ll run 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston, which is truly a dream come true. On Tuesday, I’ll waddle to Boston Logan airport and catch a flight to Jordan for the second annual Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls on April 22.

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This year has been a whirlwind, and there are so many people to thank who made all of this possible. To list them out individually would probably exceed the length of this already wordy blog, so I’ll do my best to keep it short. I’m grateful for Coach Jerry and my GRC teammates for encouraging my comeback and supporting me even when I lagged at the back of workouts. I’m thankful for a great medical team and close friends who believed in me and cheered for me even when things seemed unlikely. I’m forever indebted to the dedicated board members of the Foundation, our rockstar Fulbright organizers, and amazing coaches and volunteers in Jordan who are the day-to-day force behind the camp and race. And finally, I’m thankful for family--my own parents and the Brekelmans family--who have supported these initiatives on behalf of Nina since day one.

Tomorrow, you can find me in Boston wearing bib 11281 and grinning from ear-to-ear with a “Nina” patch on my GRC jersey. Two years ago on this date I was unable to walk and worried if I’d ever really run again. Now, I’m 26.2 miles away from joining the family “Boston Club.” I never imagined this would be the path to my first Boston marathon, but after all the adversity I consider just being here a victory.

This blog was also shared on the Georgetown Running Club blog at http://blog.grcrunning.com/.