Announcing the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient

The 2016-2017 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Samah Asfour. Congratulations Samah! 

About Samah

Photo by Douglas Levere, University of Buffalo. 

Photo by Douglas Levere, University of Buffalo. 

Born to Palestinian immigrant parents, Samah Asfour tailored her educational and career goals to reflect her Arab identity. At the University of Buffalo, Samah majored in Political Science and Global Gender Studies and minored in French.

To advance her language skills, Samah studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. While there, she began conducting research for her honors thesis topic on the discrimination against Muslim women in France and their counter-public spheres.

Dedicated to alleviating poverty in the developing world, Samah co-founded an organization on campus under the mission to promote female education as a tool of empowerment. After graduating magna cum laude in May 2015, Samah embarked on a Fulbright assignment in Amman, Jordan where she lectured at Jordan Applied University.

During her year teaching business English and tourism English courses, Samah found time to improve her Modern Standard Arabic by taking classes at both the Qasid Institute and Ahlan Jordan. Samah volunteered with Madrasati, A Queen Rania Initiative, where she created and implemented interactive English games for elementary education.

As the first recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship, Samah plans to concentrate her graduate work on women and gender in the MENA region. She hopes to gain more knowledge on Arab-American identity, Islamic feminism, and women’s roles in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible! 

Samah and volunteers at the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls in Amman, Jordan. 

The Nina Brekelmans Story: Promoting Women’s and Girl’s Empowerment through Running and Cultural Exchange

By 2015-2016 Fulbright U.S. Students to Jordan

Summer Forester, Emily Gallagher, and Jade Graddy

On a bright spring day in April 2014, Nina Brekelmans toed the line to compete in the half marathon at the Dead Sea Ultra race in Amman, Jordan. Although Nina had never competed in this distance before, she won. During a post-race interview, Nina described the race as particularly important to her because it was her last race in Jordan before returning to the United States Tragically, this would be the last race Nina would ever run in Jordan; in June 2015, Nina passed away in a house fire in Washington, DC.

Nina was selected for a Fulbright U.S. Student grant in May 2015 and would have begun her research project in Jordan in August of that year. Nina’s passion for running intersected with and informed her scholarship. As a Fulbright U.S. Student, she planned to research how women’s involvement in elite-level distance running shifts cultural norms about women’s roles in society. Nina hoped to use this research in her lifelong endeavor to promote female participation in athletics. To be sure, Nina was well-suited for this project. During her time in Jordan as a Boren Fellow in 2013-2014, she connected with athletes, coaches, and local running organizations, all of whom embraced Nina as one of their own.

Following Nina’s untimely death, the U.S. Department of State and theBinational Fulbright Commission in Jordan (sponsors and administrators of the Fulbright Program in Jordan) decided to create a community engagement award to honor Nina’s legacy and to help her research continue in Jordan. The prize was $1,000 to fund a project that promoted Nina’s vision of female empowerment through running. This year’s Fulbright U.S. Student group in Jordan worked together to create a proposal.

Nina’s friends and family in the United States gave us the idea to do a camp. They had talked about creating one, but they didn’t have any on-the-ground connections in Jordan to make it a reality. Together, we started laying out the groundwork based on their ideas and the possibilities in Amman.

Planning the camp was easy, largely because Nina was so well respected by everyone she met. Every idea we had was met with a quick solution through people who knew Nina and wanted to support her legacy. We needed a location: one of her friends in Jordan had connections to Sports City where we could host the camp for free; we needed a coach: one of Jordan’s premier marathon runners happened to be her trainer and friend; we needed speakers to talk to the girls about healthy living: Nina had worked with countless people in Jordan towards this end. Nina was there in spirit and helping the camp every step of the way.

The Nina Brekelmans Camp for Girls officially launched on February 27, 2016, and continued for five consecutive Saturdays ending on March 26. Each day started with a 2-4 km run with the fifteen girls, ages 8-14, who participated in the camp. Afterwards, a guest speaker addressed the girls on topics ranging from the health and emotional benefits of running to the importance of strength training and proper nutrition. In the afternoons, we focused on team-building exercises, with a focus on positive self-image and empowerment. Through these sessions, we worked to instill a love of running and foster bonds of friendship and a supportive community.

On April 9, the camp comes to a close with a 3 km race for girls ages 8-14. This race is one of the first of its kind in Jordan, specifically focusing on young female runners. The Dead Sea Ultra race was not Nina’s last because through her vision and community support at least 50 young girls will be running in her namesake at the Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls.

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.

NBC WASHINGTON CHANNEL 4 COVERAGE OF 5K MEMORIAL RACE

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.

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.

GRC Announces the First Annual Nina Brekelmans Award Winner

The Nina Brekelmans Award Winner, Dickson Mercer

In recognition of our dear teammate, the Georgetown Running Club has established an annual award in Nina's memory that recognizes a teammate who exhibits Nina's passion for service, drive for excellence, love of running, and humility. We are pleased to announce the first recipient, Dickson Mercer. 

From the GRC announcement: Two of the many wonderful qualities that we will always remember about Nina were her passion for running, and her dedication to public service. Because Dickson shares those qualities, he is a fitting winner of the inaugural award in Nina's honor. Dickson is an experienced and accomplished marathoner who is not known for his speed, yet in 2015, at age 33, Dickson ran his first full track season since college because he wanted to have some fun with the sport he loves. The results were impressive, capped by his huge PR of 8:52 for 3000. Dickson also has a history of public service as demonstrated by his work, along with his wife Emily, in the Peace Corps in Niger, and his demanding stint as a guide for elite visually impaired runner Aaron Scheidies in the 2012 Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. Dickson has also dedicated himself to GRC, and his contributions to the team include sharing his vast expertise in the marathon with his younger teammates.

Dickson Mercer

RunWashington Feature: Bringing Running With Her

RunWashington Feature: Bringing Running With Her

Ibrahim Abu Asbeh was driving on a sunny day in Amman, Jordan, when he first saw Nina Brekelmans running.

“Wow, she is really good,” the running coach thought to himself. “I need to know her.”

Seeing a female runner in that country was rare, something Nina hoped to change.

She was in Jordan through the Center for Arabic Study Abroad while a graduate student at Georgetown and Abu Asbeh just happened to see her during one of her training runs along Amman’s Sport City trails. After picking up running at the insistence of a friend, she had competed for Dartmouth and kept it up after moving on to grad school.

Bicycles, Yoga, and Nina: BicycleSPACE Yoga Fundraiser

Nina moved quickly. If she wasn't running somewhere, Nina was likely darting off around town on a bright pink road bike. It's no surprise then that she would be drawn to a series of free evening yoga classes at BicycleSPACE, a community-oriented bicycle shop in downtown Washington, DC. The classes, hosted inside BicycleSPACE's shop function on a give-what-you-can model whereby all proceeds are donated to local non-profits. 

Upon hearing of Nina’s passing, BicycleSPACE yoga instructor Claire Hamp decided to dedicate classes throughout the summer of 2015 to Nina and the scholarship endowment at Georgetown University. On September 28, 2015, a special yoga class and reception was held at BicycleSPACE’s Adams Morgan shop to award over $900 in donations to the representatives of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship Fund at Georgetown University. Photos from that event are below. 

Eulogy by Elizabeth Harmon

Nina and I met at Middlebury’s summer Arabic language school in 2010. Everyone had to take a placement test, and I tested into a class that was too advanced. I got to the class early and everyone was already chatting in Arabic about their far more accomplished backgrounds. None of the kids looked to be my age, some had graduate degrees, and many had clearly already studied or lived in the Middle East.  Lucky for me, there was Nina. She and I both had just finished our sophomore years of college. I can still picture her sitting at the table on the first day, looking cheerful and eager to begin class, but most importantly to me, she was the only friendly face in the crowd. We sat together, getting to know one another. Nina never put on airs, she is one of the most modest people I have met, especially given her many many accomplishments.

The Middlebury program required everyone to speak only in Arabic for 10 weeks, so we had numerous hours for small talk and chit chat with that limitation. With Nina, the chit chat could run for hours, because even though she was younger than most students, she had great stories about her worldly life, passions, and interests and could convey them very well in the language. She was so easy to talk to.

Within a week of the program beginning, I realized the class with Nina was too advanced for me, and so I dropped down to a lower level. Nina stuck it out as the youngest girl in her class with the fewest number of courses of formal Arabic instruction. She was so determined to challenge herself and disciplined enough to reach her goals. While we were in the same class, we worked together on the homework. When I dropped down a level, Nina continued to help me with my homework and answer my questions throughout the program. Nina was incredibly generous with her time in helping others, no matter how busy she was. This is what she loved to do. And she loved the study of Arabic and how it brought her to interact with others.

Nina talked about how she was happiest when she was studying abroad in the Middle East, because Arabic was her favorite subject, and being there was a chance to study that subject at all hours of the day, in every situation. Whether it was sitting in class, giving directions to a cab driver, hanging out with her local language exchange partner, or running past the vendors on the Corniche in Alexandria, Egypt, she was soaking up the language just being in the Middle East.

Two weeks ago we went for lunch and when talking about her future, she said that she was interested in translating fiction from Arabic into English. She loved the idea of entertaining two of her passions. On top of her rigorous course load in her final semester of her Arab Studies program at Georgetown, she took a creative writing class in the English department and really enjoyed it.

I asked her to lunch because I was hoping to get her advice and feedback on a creative writing project of my own. One of the last things she said to me was, “Lizzie, you just tell me what you need me to do to help you, and I’ll do it.”

Eulogy by Michael Brill

Nina Brekelmans was an amazing colleague and fellow student.  She was an even more amazing person and friend.  Nina and I met in the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program in Amman, Jordan in August 2013.  In getting to know Nina during the following months, I was struck most by the remarkable combination of austerity and discipline with which she conducted herself and regimented her life on the one hand, and the heartfelt happiness and gentleness of spirit with which she interacted with others and the world around her on the other.  Many a weaker person, having subjected him or herself to such a rigorous lifestyle and exacting standards in every endeavor, would have been negatively affected and undergone a hardening of their heart; but not Nina.   Nina’s smile and friendliness were contagious and although we did not share any of the same classes that year in Jordan, our meet-ups for lunch or tea, along with chance encounters at the Arabic institute or around Amman, always predictably resulted in a distinct sense of optimism and positivity.  Never before had I met someone possessing the grace of balancing the highest level of personal devotion with the authentic humility of accepting the world she encountered and the people in it she met as they were.  Nina radiated the joy that comes not only from living, but living well with kindness towards all.  

Nina and my academic and personal friendships developed in an environment heavily influenced by her characteristic dedication and genuineness of purpose.  At a dinner party over Alice Gissinger’s apartment 2-3 months into the program, Nina and I realized that we had not spoken to each other in English, highlighting the seriousness with which she took the pledge to speak in Arabic.  Nina also took a sincere interest in my own plans for the future and was elated that I had deferred acceptance to the Arab Studies program at Georgetown University.  Nina made it crystal clear that she expected me to come back with her to Georgetown and when I officially accepted in April 2014, she greeted me that morning by screaming and jumping up to give me a giant hug, the warmth of which will never grow cold.  In word, spirit, and action, Nina’s loyalty to and pride in this university were boundless.  

The experience of actually having class with and studying alongside Nina this past year at Georgetown is something I will always be grateful for.  Mr. and Mrs. Brekelmans, as I told you when we crossed paths at DuPont Circle just a few weeks ago, “It was an honor spending the past two years with Nina in CASA and at Georgetown, although she set the academic bar so high that it was basically impossible to reach.” However, the difficulty of keeping pace with Nina, whether in school or in life, is not an excuse to avoid trying, to not giving it our very best. We will recall the elegance and poise with which Nina ran marathons and the race of life while finding inspiration in how she ran both.  Nina would expect and accept nothing less.  And despite the pain, sadness, and darkness of the irreparable void created by Nina’s loss, to quote novelist Stephen Crane, I hope that time will bring a measure of solemn comfort in the knowledge that even “the unutterable midnights of the universe will have no power to daunt the color of this soul.”

Eulogy by Alice Gissinger

Dearest Gail, Nico, Rob, friends,

I feel blessed to know that I was one of Nina's very close friends. We got to know each other by spending a year abroad together, studying Arabic in Jordan.

She and I were different in a number of ways, but something about her beauty, her energy, her intelligence, her friendliness instantly attracted me to her, and over the course of the year, we became very close friends.

One of the things I liked most about Nina is that I never had any doubts about the way she felt about people or things. She always made herself very clear.

I'm not saying that Nina wasn't complex or indecisive ­­ she was, we all know that. Nina took forever to make decisions. They dragged on and on. But at least, she never pretended to be sure of herself if she wasn’t.

When Nina wasn't happy about something, or didn't adore someone, she made it very easy to find out. She was wonderfully simple to be around.

If Nina didn't really want to go to your party, she would tell you.

If she didn't want to eat your food, she would tell you.

If you were giving her too much homework ­­-- or too little homework, for that matter -- she would tell you.

It wasn't always pleasant, but at the very least, you never had to worry, or try to guess how she was feeling, or walk on eggshells around Nina. She spared you that effort. Said. Done.

And of all the people I have loved this fully, I think I had to worry about Nina the least. I could always trust she was doing her thing and she'd take care of herself.

Which is why this particular tragedy, which brought us here together today, is so haunting.

Nina forced people to be honest with each other. And if she told you she loved you, and she did that a lot, because she cared for people, she would do it without reserve, without a shred of ambiguity. There was never a question that she meant every word. She would write things like "lots of giant hugs." Who writes things like that?

Gail and Nico, thank you for raising such a genuine gal. She was always right there with us.

Rob, thank you for all the times you teased and annoyed your sister growing up -- it’s how she learned to stand up for herself.

Nina my darling, lots of giant hugs. I will miss you very much.

Video: Nina's Memorial Race in Amman, Jordan on June 11, 2015

Translation into English: 

Toya Hasab Allah: This is for Nina’s memory, she loved running very much. She used to be very happy with the races done in Amman. She is a hero, and has a great place in our hearts. Our love for her cannot be quantified and will always remember her. As long as I run, she will always be with me. 

Ibrahem Abu Asbeh:  Nina was a dear friend and colleague. We used always train together.  The tragic news has profoundly impacted and upset all of us. We wanted to commemorate her memory through this Race for Charity in her name. We were happy that all her friends attended the run and even people who did not know her personally participated to honor her. Our prayers go out to her and her family.

Sharifa and Ashwaq: We are Nina’s friends, and her running partners.  We first met Nina here, at Sports City, and we would run together almost daily.  Talking about Nina, she brought us together with her persistent, kind spirit that represents a true sportswoman.  The smile would never leave her face, no matter her score or run time. As a human being, she is irreplaceable and our loss is great.  She is a friend above all else, she would motivate and encourage us. Her voice is still with me, urging us to go on, give it all we’ve got and not care about the challenges.  She will always be with us, her spirit is with us. Everything in Sports City reminds us of her.  We send our condolences to her family as we try to console ourselves with the loss of such a friend. 

Lina Al-Kurd: Today, we as Run Jordan have come together  to support running for charity, which is our motto.  We are doing this today in the name of one of our runners who participated with us in 2014, Nina Brekelmans. Nina is an American citizen who learned Arabic and tried to make an impact in Jordan.  She worked mainly on empowering local women to participate in sports, especially running.  She tried to help them overcome societal stigma and participate in any sport within the Kingdom. She also worked with us. She helped us with the Young Runners program. She volunteered as a trainer in this initiative.  We send her family our deepest condolences. We lost a great runner and volunteer who had an amazing spirit. Her memory will always live with her family and friends. This video is a gift to her loved ones in the US. In memory of Nina Brekelmans.

Washington Post Article on Nina and Michael McLoughlin

Victims of Dupont Circle house fire remembered for humor, humility

By Peter Hermann, Mary Pat Flaherty, and Julie Zauzmer

Nina Brekelmans graduated from Georgetown University in May with a master’s degree in Arabic Studies, focused on women’s rights in the Arab world. The 25-year-old was headed to the Middle East to research Jordan’s female distance runners, combining two of her passions.

Michael Patrick McLoughlin, 24, graduated magna cum laude in 2012 from the University of Maryland with degrees in finance and economics. He channeled his enthusiasm into his work and play and surprised his bosses at an insurance company by turning around a complex spatial data analysis a month before it was due.

They rented living quarters on the upper floors of a rowhouse on Riggs Place NW, just off 16th Street and not far from Dupont Circle, that caught fire and burned early Wednesday. Both were killed. And friends, colleagues and families are mourning two young lives lost in what onlookers described as a terrifying early morning blaze. The incident remains under investigation.

McLoughlin’s family issued a brief statement, saying he “was just beginning his career in D.C. when this tragedy occurred. Michael was a driven, intelligent young man, with an amazing ability to make people laugh. We are devastated that he is gone. We miss him greatly.” Brekelmans’s immediate family asked for privacy; a longtime friend described her as “just extraordinary.”

D.C. police and fire officials, along with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are investigating the 2:30 a.m. fire and said the cause has not been determined. But in a statement, Georgetown University said the fire started with an electrical malfunction. Lt. Sean Conboy, a spokesman for D.C. police, would say only that the cause does not appear suspicious. Three firefighters and two other occupants were injured.

Sefanit Befekadu, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said an inspection of the building the day of the fire revealed code violations, but city officials would not provide the report, citing the ongoing investigation. She did not say when the four-story rowhouse had last been inspected. A fire department spokesman was unable to say whether the house had working smoke detectors.

The building’s owner could not be reached to comment.

Just midway through her 20s, Brekelmans had built a résumé people twice her age might envy. She competed with the Georgetown Running Club, was treasurer of a women’s international organization and interned with Georgetown’s Muslim Chaplaincy. She was fluent in Arabic and Spanish and had studied in Jordan on a prestigious Boren Fellowship from the National Security Education Program.

“She was not one to sit there and flaunt her accomplishments,” said Mary Grace Pellegrini, who grew up with Brekelmans in Louis­ville and spent three years in high school with her there before both moved to the District. “She was extraordinarily accomplished and immensely humble.”

Brekelmans did her undergraduate work at Dartmouth College, where she was a walk-on to the cross-country and distance running programs. In 2012, she approached Jerry Alexander, coach of the Georgetown Running Club, made up mostly of accomplished runners who were in competitive college sports. Brekelmans knew that she was behind others, who ran up to 70 miles each week.

“She wanted the opportunity to get better,” said Alexander, 51, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil division. “She knew she would be coming into the situation where she wasn’t at the top. She said she was a hard worker and would we give her the chance to prove herself.”

Brekelmans won her first half marathon last year in Jordan, on a course near the Dead Sea, Alexander said. There, she trained every day at 4:30 a.m. to beat the heat and avoid any problems in a country where the sight of a woman in shorts might prompt anger. It was just the sort of topic she planned to explore when she returned there on a Fulbright grant.

Fida Adely, an associate professor at Georgetown, said Brekelmans had combined her passion for the Arabic language and running as she set out to find ways that athletics could become “a tool to enhance the lives of girls and young women in the Arab world.” 

“While she could be quiet, she was thoughtful and really strove to understand the complex theories and realities of the region of the world she so loved,” Adely said. She said friends in Jordan are planning a memorial event.

Brekelmans moved into the Dupont Circle area house from Upper Northwest before the start of the school year in part to take advantage of theater and dining opportunities and to spend time with friends as she finished her graduate studies.

Pellegrini last saw her friend at the May 15 graduation, when they celebrated at dinner. They made plans to attend a play at a Jewish community center near her house on Wednesday and had confirmed the get-together in an e-mail over the weekend.

“I sensed something was up when I didn’t hear from Nina and she didn’t show up,” Pellegrini said. “That was not like her.”

The Muslim chaplain at Georgetown described Brekelmans as a “woman of faith in a loving God, faith in herself and in people. She believed that dreaming big is possible. . . . She was very humble, very loving and the best listener ever.”

McLoughlin, who grew up in Leonardtown in Southern Maryland, was passionate about his work but also knew how to have fun. He had moved into the Riggs Place house just two months ago while he was working at United Educators, an insurance company in Bethesda.

“Mike was mature beyond his years,” said Greg Peed, an actuarial analyst. “He had a quick grasp of the terminology used here and completed a complex project — a spatial data analysis — a month ahead of schedule. He had an inquisitive nature and was not shy about asking questions.”

McLoughlin had begun his career interning at OST Global Solutions, a consulting company in Rockville that helps contractors write proposals to win government jobs. His boss, Alex Brown, said he was so impressed by McLoughlin’s thorough research and quick grasp of the field that he hired him full-time.

Brown said that McLoughlin balanced professionalism and fun. “He was hysterical,” he said. “His goal was always to make sure that everyone else around him was happy.”

Once, he helped push Brown’s gasless car out of the street, drove him to get gas and drove him back, despite work piling up on his desk.

Leah Regan met McLoughlin when they interned at Global Solutions. At first, she thought him so serious that he was intimidating. Then she discovered his other side.

“He’d go from being incredibly professional on a conference call to five minutes later guffawing with laughter,” Regan said. She invited fellow interns to her house for a weekly dinner, where McLoughlin made sure that they turned on a sports game every week.

“He wasn’t able to sit down,” Regan said. “If the ball was in play, he was pacing around my living room, screaming at the top of his lungs in sheer excitement at the fact that sports was happening. . . . Most of us enjoyed watching Mike react to sports more than we actually enjoyed whatever sport was being broadcast.”

McLoughlin wore old-fashioned red headphones everywhere he went and could scarf down three helpings of food before anyone else had finished a first serving, friends said. And he would lean so far off a couch that he seemed in danger of falling off. “He was so animated, and he was so passionate,” Regan said.

Dana Hedgpeth, Magda Jean-Louis, Jennifer Jenkins, Susan Svrluga and Clarence Williams contributed to this article.

Run Jordan organizes memorial run for Nina Brekelmans

AMMAN — Run Jordan organised a special run in memory of American runner Nina Brekelmans who passed away in a tragic accident on June 3 in the United States, according to a statement from organisers.

Brekelmans won the 2014 Dead Sea Ultra Marathon 21km race and was one of the first five winners in the 2014 Amman Marathon.

She also volunteered with Run Jordan and helped launch the Junior Runners Programme in 2014. As a tribute to her highly motivated spirit and achievements with the society, Run Jordan’s family, team members and many local runners who participated in these races with Nina, came together to honour her love for running at the Sports City running track.

“We were very saddened with the news of Nina’s death, and to remember her motivated, helpful and giving spirit we decided that the best thing would be to honour her with the one thing that she loved most, running,” said Lina Kurd, Run Jordan general manager.

- See more at: http://www.jordantimes.com/news/sports/run-jordan-organises-memorial-run-nina-brekelmans#sthash.s1qobGTi.dpuf

From Teal Burrell and Miles to the Trials: "Nina"

By Teal Connor Burrell 

Last week, our team suffered another devastating loss: on June 3rd, our teammate Nina was killed in a house fire.

Nina was one of those people that seem to defy the laws of time and the limits of energy. She worked her butt off at absolutely everything she did, and she accomplished a lot in her short 25 years. Last month, she graduated from Georgetown with a Masters in Arab Studies and she was gearing up to head to the Middle East on a Fulbright scholarship. She walked onto the Dartmouth track and cross-country teams in college and joined GRC after graduation. Although she struggled with injuries during her time on GRC, she was an absolute fighter. At practice she would latch onto the pack and not let go. It was sometimes obvious how hard the pace was, but she fought with everything she had to stick to it. Dreaming big doesn’t get you anywhere without a work ethic to match, and Nina had the biggest.

It’s not fair that Nina won’t have a chance to go after her goals—both in running and in her career. Her Fulbright involved studying women’s running in Jordan, hoping to promote the sport as a way to empower women. As part of her Masters studies, she spent a year in the Middle East, originally settling in Egypt in the summer of 2013. When unrest broke out, she was forced to evacuate to Jordan but wrote us that she didn’t want to leave; she felt safe and wanted to stay to continue her studies. I think that attitude sums up Nina – her work ethic, her bravery, her optimism. She always saw the absolute best in people, and she worked incredibly hard to help people however she could.

While in Jordan, she ran—and won—her first half marathon. In her email after the race, she wrote about how she was excited that she ran well, but noted, “The best part of the day was sharing it with the people I love most here in Jordan.”

Isn’t that the best part of all running? Races are celebrations of hard work, and they’re best shared with the friends that have logged those miles with you, that have shared your dreams and aspirations, that have stuck—huffing and puffing—on your tail through every lung-busting interval. Running has given me some of my best friends—people who make the victories seem sweeter and the defeats sting less.

Which makes it devastating to lose one of those friends. Please keep Nina’s family, friends, and teammates all over the world in your thoughts and prayers. 

We’ll miss you, Nina. May we remember you always by trying to live more like you did: bravely, positively, with a heart full of kindness, always willing to help however possible.

 

Dream as big as Nina did,

Teal

Video: Nina's Post-race Interview from the 2014 Dead Sea Ultra Marathon

عدائة محترفة وخلوقة احبت الاردن كثيرا وفرضت احترام الناس لها الله يرحمك يا ( NINA BREKELMANS )

Posted by Lutfi Mohammad Saleh on Saturday, June 6, 2015