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Women's History Month Feature - Chicagoland Running Club Leaders

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. A few of our local running club leaders gave us some insight into their leadership experience.

Melissa Polivka - President, Evanston Running Club

What inspired you to be a leader in the running community?

I was inspired to be a leader in the running community when, after years of being a stay-at-home mom, I found a way to wake up my professional skills and gain fulfillment through volunteering. Trust me, I loved play-date event management and road-trip-with-toddlers logistics, but doing those things on a larger scale is really satisfying. Connecting with other runners (grown-ups!) and producing opportunities for them to accomplish their running goals is as gratifying as finishing my own races.

Have you faced any challenges being a female leader in athletics/running?

Being a woman in leadership is challenging. I find myself struggling for gravitas with some audiences. But the rewards are worth it. I think I communicate in a refreshing and unique way, and my voice as a woman is one that needs to be heard and counted as valuable. I hope my spirit and creativity has a lasting effect on the members of the Evanston Running Club.

In your opinion, why is it important to create a community or group environment for runners?

Creating community is important in itself, regardless of what joins us together! But specifically, running can be isolating if you're putting in long hours or agonizing over every mile of your training program. A running community takes some of the seriousness out of training (do your miles count if you offset them with as many beers?). The running community is the place to exchange ideas, advice, and experience- and not only about running. In our club, we've got a diverse group of experts with lots of opinions, and many of the world's problems have been solved out there during our Saturday Morning Long Runs along the lakefront.


Beth Onines - President, Alpine Runners Club

What inspired you to be a leader in the running community?

I guess for me it was just natural because it was my idea to start the Alpine Runners in June of 1981 to get the ball rolling. I was the President's wife but I was the one that stayed home to answer all the questions from all the calls we received from members and people inquiring about the club. We had 8 original board members and I was the treasurer. When we started the club we all loved running as a group and racing a lot! Since we were a club, we had to wear club colors as clubs are supposed to do, right? That really gave our club a lot of visibility at the races we ran. I forgot the year, but it really was before I started racing the CARA Circuit at the Lake County Marathon that I finished 8th place over all the women. A group of CARA Circuit ladies were looking at me saying , "Who is that?" I turned out to be a good runner and because of that, I became visible as the leader of the club. I was asked to be on the CARA Board because of my running but also for helping CARA with their training programs as a site coordinator for the Beginning Running Programs. Because of that, I was very interested in getting the marathon training program to Lake Zurich and I did! Later on in 2000, I started working for CARA as the Program Director. By that time CARA only had 5 marathon training site including Lake Zurich. Because of knowing all the clubs in the Chicago area, I was able to add 11 more marathon training site that included 2500 marathon training participants. While working for CARA it was recommended to be asked to be on the RRCA Board which I was elected as the RRCA Central Regional Director. After that I became the RRCA IL State Representative. Thirty-nine years later here I am still as the President of the Alpine Runners and a leader of the local running scene and national running scene.

Have you faced any challenges being a female leader in athletics/running?

Yes, I have within the club by another board member because of being an officer of the club and being outspoken and would not tolerate the unethical behavior of that board member. Another was when I worked for CARA, there were some who did not like having a woman telling them how to do things as CARA wanted. One of them even came to the office to complain to our Executive Director, but our ED backed me up and shut him down!

In your opinion, why is it important to create a community or group environment for runners?Since I started running in Lake Zurich, my goal has been to have every runner in Lake Zurich become an Alpine Runner because I at that time thought that these runners would be very happy running in a group. I think it starts with our beginning runners that start running with a small group of runners just like them and did not feel intimidated by those people that call themselves club runners. Some of these new runners were lead to believe that all runners in a club had to be fast elite type of runners. NOT!!! The beginning running program started these runner off knowing the does and don't of running just as much as the other club members and were no longer intimidated. For the more advanced runners, it has always been so much better to run with a group of runners at your own pace. While running in these groups, the newer members took in every bit of information they heard from the runners in their group. But I think with our training programs, we give these new runners the correct information they need to know. Aside from that, those darn miles sure do go by so very fast when running in a group. So many times I have seen new members run further that they could run before and they actually had not planned on running as far as they did. They got so engrossed by the conversations going on in the group that they didn't want to leave the group! I also think the most important is that it is safer for both women and men to run with a partner, especially for women!

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