The idea: To make running accessible and safe for all communities, races and ethnicities.
CARA’s new executive director, Jason Friske, knows first-hand what a difference running can make in a person’s life.
“I was one of those poor kids,” Friske said.
When he was in high school and wanted to go out for the track team, he had to save money from his part-time job to buy his first pair of running shoes.
“So, I always think about that, how far I’ve come -- from a point in my life where I couldn’t even afford the proper gear,” Friske said.
After running track and playing football in high school, he kept running outside of organized sports and found it not only helped him de-stress but also provided him the structure in his non-running life to be more productive and efficient.
“And that’s why I’m interested in bringing running to under-served communities,” Friske said.
From personal experience, he knows how it can help turn your life around.
Though Friske has been a life-long runner, he didn’t start doing endurance races until 2008, when he signed up for his first Chicago Marathon – just to see if he could do it.
He started running with CARA at that point and has since run 14 marathons, including the Madison Marathon a couple of weeks ago and one Boston Marathon. “The Power of the Group” has carried him through them all.
He’s come to look forward to the early morning Saturday sunrises during the Summer Marathon Training Program and finds peace in the foot-strike cadence of his training group as they come together and fall in sync as training progresses.
He’s made some of his best friends through CARA, and he said he’s learned so much about the art of running just by being around other runners.
Friske said he’s stuck with CARA as a member not only because of that camaraderie and the friendships he’s made over the years but also because of the advocacy efforts CARA makes for the running community.
“I don’t think people realize CARA played an important role in the re-opening of the Lake Front Path during the pandemic,” Friske said. “We also created pandemic racing protocols that were adopted by communities throughout the United States.”
He reiterated that CARA is so much more than just a running group, as the association helps improve conditions for all runners in the Chicagoland area.
“It’s important for all of us to have an organization like CARA advocating for us,” Friske said. “Because we have contacts the average runner doesn’t have.”
Outside of running, Friske has an extensive background in non-profit management.
Before joining CARA, he served as Senior Director of Operations for the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), where he managed the customer service team, membership database, website, data initiatives and the processing of more than $5 million in annual membership dues. Prior experience includes serving as the Executive Director of Zonta International, a service club organization with more than 30,000 members in 64 countries. He is also a Certified Association Executive and has a certification in Nonprofit Organization Management.
Thus, with his background in NFP and passion for running, Friske said becoming the Executive Director for CARA was like winning the lottery.
“This is an incredible opportunity as a runner to lead my local runner’s association,” he said. “I have the background as a runner and a not-for-profit professional. The fact that those two things sync up – it’s very rare. And I’m really excited to see how far we can take this.”