Nina's Memorial Design Spotlight: Kelly Kurkjian

By Kelly Kurkjian, originally posted on the Craft Room

Last June, my cousin Nina passed away in a house fire. Nina was a beautiful soul with incredible journey ahead of her. Months after her passing, one of Nina’s best friends, Mary Grace, started to organize a 5K in her memory. As soon as I had found out of these plans, I wanted to get involved. I volunteered to design whatever was needed for the 5K.

I knew right after volunteering that this would be the most meaningful design job I’ve ever worked on. Nina was a passionate runner, who took that passion to the Middle East to help improve the lives of young women through running and athletics. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to help continue Nina’s legacy and passion by volunteering my very own passion of design.

Mary Grace, Lizzie (another one of Nina’s best friends) and I worked together to establish the logo for the race and memorial website. We experimented with many designs, but ultimately landed on a strong, bold typeface to represent her strength. We included Nina’s silhouette as well in order to represent her doing what she loved. A translation of the race name is shown in Arabic at the bottom of the logo to represent her passion for the language and connection to the people she loved in Jordan.

Once we established the logo, we kicked into full gear to make all the assets needed to make the race a success. Posters, race maps, t-shirts, and race bibs were just a selection of the things we put together for race day.

After months and months of planning and designing for the race, it had finally arrived! I can’t express the feeling of having all my family together to honor and celebrate Nina’s life and legacy. It was also finally time to meet Mary Grace, someone I had worked so closely with for months. Seeing everyone together in their bright orange shirts was emotionally overwhelming, but put the biggest smile on my face.

There have also been many extensions of the memorial identity we created, including a logo for the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls in Amman, Jordan. This camp was established in Nina’s name to continue her vision of building confidence and leadership among young women in Jordan. Check out the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls Facebook Page for updates and pictures!

I couldn’t be more honored to have created a visual identity for Nina’s legacy with Mary Grace. I am so thankful to be a part of such an incredible initiative.

Check out the Nina Brekelmans Memorial website to learn about Nina, the Memorial Scholarship 5K, Legacy Projects, Tributes, and Fire Safety.

I love you Nina, and think of you always.

Video: NBC Washington Channel 4 Coverage of 5K Memorial Race

For the complete article and video, visit this link

DC Fire Victim Honored With Memorial 5K in Georgetown

By Andrea Swalec

A young woman killed in a house fire near Dupont Circle last year was a dedicated runner who studied Arabic at Georgetown University. In her honor, 200 people ran a race starting on the school's campus Saturday morning to help fund an Arab Studies scholarship in her name.

Nina Brekelmans, 25, died June 3, 2015, after the house on the 1600 block of Riggs Place NW in which she rented a room caught fire overnight. According to a $10 million lawsuit filed by her family, Brekelmans was trapped in her third-floor room because her windows were stuck closed and her room had no fire escape.

The Dartmouth College graduate had recently earned a master's degree in Arab Studies from Georgetown and was headed to the Middle East as a Fulbright scholar to research female runners in Jordan, combining two of her passions, family members and friends said.

"Nina was one of the kindest, most genuine people that you'll ever meet," said Mary Grace Pellegrini, who grew up with Brekelmans in Louisville and organized the 5K.

Pellegrini, 26, asked runners to keep her Georgetown Running Club teammate in mind as they ran the course that passed through some of her favorite places, including along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath.

"Think of her when you're on the towpath this morning," Pellegrini said before the runners took off.

Brekelmans' parents, Nico and Gail Brekelmans, were among the runners who woke early on a cold Saturday morning. They, like dozens of others, wore neon orange T-shirts printed with "Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship 5K" printed in English and Arabic.

"It's just wonderful everyone is here for Nina," Brekelmans' father said after he finished the race -- his first -- to huge cheers. "It's really helping us."

Top honors went to Phil Royer, who graduated from Dartmouth with Brekelmans. He finished the winding course in 16:56.

The Brekelmans, who flew in from Shanghai, announced that after the race, the scholarship in their daughter's name to the university's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies had been fully funded.

"As long as Georgetown is around, there will be a named scholarship," Nico Brekelmans said.

Funds raised from the race contributed about $10,000 to the fund, Pellegrini said.

And as runners hit the pavement in D.C., another group ran in Brekelmans' honor more than 5,000 miles away. A group of girls in Amman, Jordan, ran Saturday with the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls. The group was created to carry out Brekelmans' vision outlined in her Fulbright proposal to promote girls' health and boost their self-esteem.

The house fire that killed Brekelmans also killed Michael McLoughlin, 24, who had rented a room on the same floor. He was a Maryland native who worked for an insurance company in Bethesda and had an infectious laugh, friends and family members told The Washington Post.

Lawyers for the building's owner, Len Salas, say in court documents that the electrical fire could not have been prevented.

Brekelmans would have been 26 this month.

"Nina was a wonderful person," her father said.

"She knew exactly what she wanted to do," he added before saying he could not go on.

Official GRC Recap: Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship 5K Race Recap

By Dickson Mercer of GRC

March 19, 2016

Nina's father, Nico, made everyone laugh at the post-race ceremony this morning when he joked: "It's easy to organize a race, right? It's very easy to do." The Nina Brekelman's Memorial Scholarship 5k (results here), as Nico himself pointed out, was orchestrated by more than 70 GRC members. It was a short race, yet it was a marathon's worth of work led by Mary Grace, who in turn had huge assists from Lindsay and many others.

The idea for this race, as we know, was born out of tragedy. As it came together, though, it quickly grew into more than a memorial race, but really a demonstration that Nina's family, friends, and teammates were going to carry Nina's work forward. Nina's spirit would very literally live on, pushed forwarded by many, including two organizations that were particularly inspired by her: GRC, her running club, and Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), where Nina earned her masters' degree; from runners, to scholars, to young women in Amman, Jordan, where she was a Harvard University Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) Fellow.

Nina, as Coach said today, was passionate:  "She was not the most talented runner on our team," he said in his remarks, "but she had a level of talent and desire that was truly exceptional."

And running was only part of it. Nina was committed to community engagement on a global scale. Dr. Joel Hellman, dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, which includes the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), put it like this: 

"We're in a really unusual moment … where you start to see our politicians turning inward. … And it's all the more important that we here at Georgetown, in School of Foreign Services, are moving in the opposite direction, looking outward … 

"Nina was the perfect example of that."

Nina's former Dartmouth teammates, Phil Royer and Hannah Rowe, both represented GRC and won their respective races. 

Nina's parents, on the other hand, Nico and Gail, who live in Shanghai, both ran their first 5k. They arrived in D.C. on Thursday, and were joined at the race by their son and Nina's brother, Rob, who lives in London, and many members of their extended family.

Nico said they were still pretty tired from the travel. "But it's worth every minute to see this and everybody coming out for Nina. Nina's friends have been just amazing - all the things they're doing. They're making a lot of things happen. And it's wonderful. It's really helping us cope with it."

Reflections on the towpath

About 200 runners gathered this morning on GU's Copley Lawn, many wearing the official race T-shirt designed by Nina's cousin, Kelly Kurkjian. The course took them on paths around the campus, with a segment on the towpath in between. And as NBC reported, Mary Grace advised race participants to use that time on the towpath to remember Nina. 

Three runners who ran with Nina at Dartmouth did exactly that.

John Schroeder, of D.C., who finished 2nd, running most of the race solo, said: "I thought about Nina, and thought about how she enjoyed running. It was a good way to remember her." He added that Nina was the only runner at Dartmouth who had earned a spot on the team as a walk-on, through sheer hard work. "It's really hard to do. It's not something I've heard of anyone doing before I got there and since I've left."

Phil, cruising to victory, looked out from the towpath and was pleased to see there were some rowers cheering for him. (Rowing, as Phil pointed out, was yet another one of Nina's passions.)

And when Hannah crossed the line, the GRC-Dartmouth sweep was complete. "I was hurting," she said, "and I honestly did think about [Nina]." 

When the going got tough, in fact, Hannah remembered Nina's distinct running form. "t's not perfect running form," she said, "but everything was driving so hard, and you knew she was putting everything into it. It just motivated me, thinking about her: just drive my arms."

Always Nina 

Nina had been awarded a Fulbright fellowship. She would have been in Jordan last fall to conduct research on female distance runners and continue her studies. 

One of her big goals, as part of that, was to establish a girls running camp there. Today, with the help of current Fulbright students, 15 girls in Jordan were participating in the first ever such camp. 

There was also the idea of a scholarship.

After Nina passed, "the idea of an endowed scholarship in Nina's name was a real balm to our wounded spirits," said Osama Abi-Mershed, the director of CCAS. 

Well, that goal reached the finish line this morning too. 

Thanks to Nico's and Gail's efforts, which were supported by Nico's company, Cooper Standard, and thanks to race proceeds, Georgetown will now offer a fully-funded endowed scholarship to support students who share Nina's passion of supporting women's empowerment in the Middle East.  

"It is here as long as Georgetown, as long as the Center, is here," Rania Kiblawi, CCAS Associate Director, said.

Nina, as we have been saying - as we will continue to say - lives on.

Georgetown Voice: Memorial 5K honors legacy of Nina Brekelmans

By Michael Coyne on April 8, 2016

The Georgetown Voice

The space around Healy Lawn and Red Square was unusually busy on the morning of March 19, as approximately two hundred runners gathered to participate in the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship 5K. Brekelmans (MSFS ‘15), who graduated from the School of Foreign Service with a Master’s degree in Arab Studies in 2015, was killed in a house fire in Dupont circle shortly after graduation.

The race itself served as a memorial for Brekelmans, an avid runner who had walked on to the cross country team as an undergraduate at Dartmouth and competed with the Georgetown Running Club (GRC), a club team for former collegiate runners based in the DMV area. The race also represented a successful effort to raise funds to carry out Brekelmans’ visions and goals as a student. According to the official website for the race, “the nearly $10,000 raised through the race will be donated towards the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund at Georgetown University, preserving Nina’s legacy of goodwill and women’s empowerment in the Middle East.”

According to Mary Grace Pellegrini, a GRC member who also attended the same high school as Brekelmans in Louisville, Ky., the race was the end product of a long planning process. “We started talking about organizing the race really right after the incident, and probably around September, we started the groundwork of making this all a reality,” said Pellegrini. Several University entities collaborated with the GRC in the organization of the race; Pellegrini stated that “Georgetown has been immensely supportive of Nina’s legacy initiatives, and this race especially,” and stressed the involvement of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) and the School of Foreign Service.

The race course ran through the heart of Georgetown’s campus, past Lauinger Library, O’Donovan Hall, the Southwest Quad, and the new John R. Thompson Intercollegiate Athletics Center. Runners then exited Georgetown’s campus, and crossed Canal Road to access the Capital Crescent trail towpath, before retracing their steps back to Georgetown. Philip Royer and Hannah Rowe won the men’s and women’s divisions of the race, respectively; the two were former teammates of Brekelmans at Dartmouth. Royer and Rowe also competed with Brekelmans as members of the GRC.

Jerry Alexander, the GRC coach, recalled Brekelmans’ involvement in his program at the race’s conclusion. Alexander remembered Brekelmans as “determined, ambitious, joyous, but most of all, passionate. Nina was not the most talented runner on our team, but she had a level of passion and desire that was truly exceptional.” Alexander then added that the GRC had created an annual team award recognizing athletes who are both passionate about their sport and involved in community service. Additionally, Alexander announced that the newest edition of the GRC team uniforms would incorporate a memorial patch for Brekelmans.

SFS Dean Joel Hellman also reflected on Brekelmans, her legacy, and her place in the Georgetown community after the race. As a relative newcomer to the SFS, Hellman said that “One thing that I have been surprised to see, deeply pleased to see, is how strong the sense of community is here at Georgetown.”

“The sense of community pervades Georgetown at all times bringing us all together,” Hellman added, “but certainly in moments of tragedy and moments of loss, we see the strength and the depth of Georgetown’s community.” Hellman praised Brekelmans as a “perfect example” of the SFS values of “looking outward, engaging outward.”

Hellman also welcomed Brekelmans’ parents, who had travelled to campus from Shanghai in order to attend the race. The new endowed scholarship in their daughter’s name, he noted, would be a welcome addition to Georgetown, as it would allow future students in the CCAS “to continue the kind of work that Nina herself was doing.”

Pellegrini elaborated on this theme, sharing that Brekelmans’ friends and family “hope to preserve” her devotion to of service, academic excellence, and women’s empowerment  “with her endowed scholarship at Georgetown, with this race today, and with a girls running camp that we’ve started in Amman, [Jordan].” The camp itself, Pellegrini added, is the product of Brekelmans’ Fulbright grant, and is currently being operated by members of that organization. “the way the camp became a reality is because the Fulbright program established a community service project.”

Pellegrini concluded the morning’s events by discussing Brekelmans’ continuing legacy. Pellegrini recalled Brekelmans as an exceptionally generous individual. “She had the ability to sit with someone and make them feel like they were the most important person in the conversation…she gave so much of herself to others…to help others with really not asking anything in return.” Ultimately, Brekelmans was remembered by Pellegrini as “a kind soul and a global citizen,” with a “steadfast sense of purpose, and a humble confidence in her interests and abilities,” who was a “loyal and dear friend.”

Borderstan Coverage of Nina's 5K

by Tim Regan — March 16, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Friends of one of the victims of last year’s deadly house fire on Riggs Place NW will hold a memorial race in her honor this weekend.

The Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship 5K Race will be held at Georgetown University (3700 O St NW) Saturday at 8 a.m.

Brekelmans, 25, graduated last May from Georgetown University with a Master of Arts in Arabic Studies. She was killed when a fire broke out in the rowhouse she lived in at 1610 Riggs Place NW last June. She is remembered by family and friends as an avid runner and a lover of languages.

Before she died, Brekelmans finished her Master of Arab Studies at Georgetown University and planned to travel to Jordan on a Fulbright Fellowship to research female distance runners and continue her Arabic language studies.

All proceeds raised from the race will be donated towards the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund at Georgetown University, a fund that aims to “preserve Nina’s legacy of goodwill and women’s empowerment in the Middle East.”