Saturday, March 19, 2016

Nina Brekelman's Memorial 5k - Recap

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.

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