So, How Was Your Day?
Quinoa Salad. Whole wheat roll.
Whole Foods salad bar. Trail mix.
My alarm on my phone goes off at 5:00 am and I hit snooze twice until 5:20 am I speedily dart to my coffee maker. I am always accompanied (and often tripped) by my two felines, Oscar and Ali, who could care less about the coffee and more about their morning treats. I check the weather by stepping outside my backdoor which will help me determine my running gear for my morning run. Then it’s straight to the arsenal of running clothes and shoes to select my outfit (short runs require a certain shoe versus longer runs or speed work). I check the Chicago Tribune and New York Times headlines, my work emails and schedule for the day. By 6:15 am I am out the door and running my regular route that takes me through Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and East Garfield Park. At that hour, the serenity is palpable. Since I don’t run with music when I run outside, my runs are a time when I can ingest my surroundings to the fullest capacity and think about how I am going to resolve a certain work or personal issue. I always say, “there isn’t a problem you can’t take with you on a run.” It’s now 7:30 am and I am frantically getting ready for the day ahead and trying to cool down from the run. By 8:15 am I am in my car for the seven minute drive to my office.
It’s 11:45 am and I am running from a meeting at a school with a principal to my lunch meeting with a prospective funder. Heading a start-up non-profit requires me to wear many hats and lunch meetings are typically with donors and external partners. The waiter knows my usual fare and my prospective funder and I are now playing the “name game” to break the ice before we delve deep into why her foundation should sponsor our youth running programs. Chicago is a small town in a big city and the “6 degrees game” is typically my way to begin building bridges and trust with a new funder or partner. By 1:00 pm I am back in my car trying to catch up on the hundreds of emails I have missed throughout the day. Next on the agenda is to jump on the phone with my trustworthy Director of Development to reassure her that I will be back in the office to edit a grant that is due by 5:00 pm. No pressure!
It’s 5:15 pm, the grant is in and I am re-applying my make-up before I head out the door for a fundraiser at a downtown hotel. Uncannily, I see the same funder I had lunch with a few hours before at the door speaking to a few colleagues (see, it is a small world!) We discuss the recent funding cuts and how that will affect all of our non-profits and then move on to lighter talks about online dating and the difficulty with work/life balance. The hotel does not have the vegetarian option available at the dinner, so I am forced to pick at the bread basket. By 8:00 pm when the program is over, I sneak out the door, so that I can make the 8:30 pm yoga class at my neighborhood yoga studio. By 9:30 pm, I still have half hour to make a dash to Whole Foods and get the yummy salad bar I have been craving all day. I madly rush inside my home with my yoga mat, laptop, purse, and Whole Foods grocery bag, trip over the cats (again), and finally sit down to eat and Skype with my Mom in Mexico. Ahhh! Can’t wait to do that all over again tomorrow.
Three Last Things…
1. What’s up with your skin being all glowy? Seriously. Is this from all the running?
Wow! Thanks for the kind words. It probably is from running, but it’s also the exhilaration I feel about the mission of our organization and the work that we do. Studies do prove that daily exercise can improve your skin because the sweat allows us to purge our bodies of the toxins that can often clog our pores. Studies also prove that exercise, especially sports like running are great ways to decompress and de-stress. Running allows me to dream big. So, I guess the afterglow of a run shows in this picture, or maybe it’s just good blush?
2. Everyone always talks about wanting to volunteer or help people more…you’re actually doing it. The non-profit world is hard work. What led you to this career and what’s keeping you there?
I grew up in a Mexican-American community that is considered low-income. My father was an artist and community organizer. Money was always very tight, but no matter how little we had my father always gave up his time, energy, and the majority of his paycheck (or lack thereof) to others. Being surrounded by parents who emphasized the importance of giving back drove me to start volunteering at a young age. My first real stint at non-profit work was starting an AIDS Action Committee in high school. I was driven to start this group because a family friend passed away in the early 1980’s from AIDS and his death never escaped me. I knew I had to do something. I have been working in non-profit ever since because it’s my calling. I think that we all have to give back to some degree and we each can do this in very small ways. Whether it be volunteering at a school or local non-profit, running a race to raise funds for a cause, or getting involved in a political campaign. Just REACH OUT and familiarize yourself with your community and the issues, that are often times right outside your door. Cesar Chavez said, “the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others”. This quote hung on my wall as a child and now hangs on my wall at work.
3. Um, so what if you are really bad at running. Like, really bad. Is this something you can learn or you either have it or you don’t?
3. There is no such thing as being bad at running. We all have different gaits, paces, body sizes. I remind all of our students in our programs that it does not matter if you are the fastest. Each of us creates our own journey when we set out on our run or walk. Just keep moving forward. And sometimes that is not even one foot in front of the other as we have some of our kids that “roll their miles”, because they are in wheelchairs. I think if you are just getting started the best advice is to have small goals and keep track of your progress. For example, tell yourself that you are going to run or jog for three minutes and then walk one minute for a total of twenty minutes. Breaking it up into smaller intervals lessens the daunting nature of going out on a run. Or don’t even bring a watch and just set a destination that you know is only a mile or two away and just keep moving toward that goal and then head back. I am more of a solo runner, but I do know that having a partner or a group is also a great way to get motivated and to hold you accountable. Make small goals, don’t overthink, soak in your surroundings, and don’t forget to breathe.
Alicia lives in Chicago. She is a public health advocate, runner, and the Executive Director of Chicago Run, a non-profit that provides free running programs to Chicago Public School students. chicagorun.org