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Women's History Month Feature - CARA Board Of Directors

In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight some of the incredible women who are leaders in our CARA and Chicagoland running communities. We will be sharing the insight and advice of some of our board members, local running club leaders, top distance competitors, and site coordinators. To kick off this series, we asked our female board members a few questions about their leadership experience.

Jill Ciminillo - Vice President, Executive Committee

What inspired you to take on this role?

CARA has played a very important role in my life. I trained with CARA in 2005 for my first marathon — which was four years after I moved to Chicago — and found my Chicago family. During the past 15 years I’ve had high points and low points, and my CARA family has been there to both celebrate and support.

When I went through a particularly rough patch that I like to call the "Swirling Vortex of Doom" — a time when pretty much everything in my life went wrong — my CARA friends listened to me, let me rant, talked me off a ledge (figuratively not literally) and kept me moving when all I wanted to do was stop. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t been running and training with CARA, I would not have survived that rough patch as well as I did.

It’s kind of dramatic to say that CARA saved my life, but in a way it did.

So, what do you give an organization that has given you love, support and a shoulder to cry on? Volunteer hours and undying gratitude.

I took on first the Board position and then the VP role on the Executive Committee because I wanted to give back to an organization that has given me so much.

What does it mean to you to be a leader?

Everything. I love helping people, and I hope that the running experiences I’ve had, the mistakes I’ve made, the injuries I’ve endured and the goals I’ve reached can help someone else be their best selves.

What advice would you give to girls or women who want to get more involved in their communities or athletics?

I was a nerd in high school — heck, I’m probably still a nerd. And I was never very good at sports. Somehow the athletic gene skipped me, though everyone else in my family is very talented. But I still tried. Eventually, I settled on sports no one in my family played — lacrosse, soccer and running — because then I couldn’t be compared to one of my siblings.

And while it would have been easy — very easy — to sit in a corner with my books, I really appreciated the love, support and team bond that you find through participating in sports.

You learn so many life lessons in athletics — how to be a part of a team and how to lose with grace.

So, to anyone who wants to get more involved, I’d say sometimes you just have to dive in headfirst. The first thing might not be the right thing (I tried out for basketball, but I’m 4’11’’ — not the right thing), but if you keep trying, you’ll eventually find something you love.

I didn’t discover marathon running until I was in my 20s, but it’s literally been one of the true joys of my life.

The one thing I would say to women and girls who are thinking of getting involved in anything is: Don’t be afraid to try.

I am a female in the very male-dominated automotive industry, and it has never occurred to me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t be here. And in the past 15 years, I’ve been the automotive editor at two major newspapers and for a major TV broadcast company. I was also the first female president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association.

None of these things have been easy, but they’ve all been worthwhile. When I was first asked to take on the automotive editor’s role, I knew nothing about cars and I was nervous to take on such a big task. But I said yes, and I’ve never regretted it.


Erika Edmonson - Board Member/Race Committee Chair

What inspired you to take on this role?

I have been running in Chicago for 20 years, and as I began to race more regularly and fall deeper in love with running I realized that there was a lot more to it than just, well, running. The amount of work and organization it takes to put on a race or to direct a run club is just astronomical. I wanted to get involved and help on a more significant level.

What does it mean to you to be a leader?

As a child, I benefited greatly from the growth of women’s sports due to Title IX. As an adult, I now see that there is still a lot of work to be done. It’s one thing to play a sport as a kid, but it’s another to be the CEO of a major sports team or a professional referee. I hope that I am setting an example for future generations of women not to give up on their love of sports, even if you’re not competing. There are many roles we still need to fill, from grassroots organizations to professional sports.

What advice would you give to girls or women who want to get more involved in their communities or athletics?

Ask questions! If you see someone doing something that you think is cool, ask them how they got started, who helped them get there, what they needed to study, etc. And besides being great for your community, volunteering is also a great way to network and see behind the scenes of how an organization works.


Wendy Davis - Board Member

What inspired you to take on this role?

As a member of the CARA running community since 2009, I am passionate about the quality of the program CARA provides in our Chicago-land communities and proud of the work CARA does to be part of the communities in a meaningful way. I simply wanted to become a more active part of that, and to give back.

What does it mean to you to be a leader?

Being a group leader has really allowed me to directly see and understand the importance CARA has in the community. I've learned about some of the struggles some runners have and have been able to pass along their experiences to the board. In addition, it has really allowed me to form real connections with so many people in my running group. By the end of the 18 weeks, we were more of a family than a random group of people who happened to run together. These connections have continued long after marathon training was over.

What advice would you give to girls or women who want to get more involved in their communities or athletics?

Show up. So often, we tell ourselves a story that isn't true, and these stories limit us. When you take the first step and show up, you will find that there are people like you all around you. Sharing your story can make a real impact on others, and so often, through a connection, you find strength in the stories of others. Advocacy matters, and sharing your time, and your journey is so impactful. Many times, we think that we don't have as much to offer as someone else, but how do you know? Until you put yourself out there, you won't know. You also have to make an effort to form connections. I know that once you do, your community will be better for it. As far as getting involved in athletics, seeing women running is very powerful. We see someone like us, who maybe looks like us, our shape, our age, whatever, and we think, wow, look what they are doing! There is power in the statement, "if you can see it, you can be it". Your involvement as a woman, both in the community and as a runner, will inspire someone else to get involved.


Gina Magsombol - Secretary / Executive Committee

What inspired you to take on this role?

During one of the most difficult periods of my life-- my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I was also going through a divorce-- I felt as though I was losing both my past (my mother) and my future (my husband). Emotionally, I was completely untethered and needed guidance, coaching and strength and needed to make a choice: find help or let depression consume me.

In what could have been the most devastating times of my life, I could have gone off the proverbial "deep end" but instead I sought strength and power in the group. I chose to train for my first half marathon with CARA in the summer of 2012 and in doing so, I was given a community and profound catharsis. They helped me through this difficult period of my life and these runners didn't even know it! They helped me become emotionally, mentally and physically stronger through these turbulent life events and prepare me for the life to come. They gave me strength by running next to me to help me check off each mile when I felt as though I couldn't go on, reminding me there is a finish line even though emotionally I had nothing left to give, looking past the pain I was experiencing in the here and now to see that all those minutes and moments of sacrifice were about the transformation through the journey and not defeat by (life) event.

I sought out the role on the CARA Board because this community picked me up, dusted me off and propelled me to always move forward. The CARA runners are a source of inspiration, motivation and friendship. I feel that in the world we currently live in we can all feel disconnected; I believe the CARA community can reconnect us, allow us to thrive and promote a healthier, happier, and safer Chicago.

What does it mean to you to be a leader?

To be a leader is to seek out the best in the individuals around you, inspire, develop and strengthen what is already there and help him/her/them move forward. It is not about telling your story, but having the openness and empathy to be able to hear others stories and take positive action.

What advice would you give to girls or women who want to get more involved in their communities or athletics?

Communities need the voice of girls and women to be heard otherwise, our community is only hearing half the story. As women, we need to realize that WE ARE the story and should take part--or charge-- in writing this chapter in our own community's history. Imagine what our history books would sound like if they were written by us women!

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