How 9 Runners Are Using Their Platforms to Tackle Today’s Most Pressing Challenges for Women

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Peter Verry, Robyn Merrett, Madeleine Crenshaw and Katie Abel
·10 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Now more than ever before, high-profile women runners are proving to be more superhero than athlete, using their platforms to encourage change for the better.

Training and competing is time consuming, but that isn’t hindering some of today’s most respected names in run from penning books tackling issues such as depression, hosting podcasts focusing on challenges women face in the sport and proving that starting a family while competing isn’t impossible.

More from Footwear News

Below, nine of the most respected women in run today share how they are making use of their platforms.

ALEXI PAPPAS
CHAMPION-SPONSORED OLYMPIC RUNNER

Alexi Pappas tackled 2020 in the form of a book. The athlete, who also has written and starred in multiple feature films, is now the author of a memoir published by Random House Books, called “Bravey.” In it, the Olympic runner opens up about her vulnerabilities, including struggles with depression and losing her mother, who took her life when the athlete was 4 years old. “When I wrote my book, my goal was to be as open and honest about my life story so far as humanly possible. I think it’s easy to look at people we might admire — pro athletes, actresses, politicians, or anyone — and assume they were always the way they are now,” said Pappas. The Greek-American runner confessed that creating the book wasn’t always easy: “The biggest hurdle I faced in 2020 was releasing ‘Bravey’ into the world,”Pappas said.“ [But] it has been an absolutely incredible process. Not every hurdle is bad, and I relish the opportunity to take on challenges that I’ve never faced before.”

KAITLIN GOODMAN
PRO ATHLETE AND FOUNDER, RUNNING JOYFULLY AND SAFE ON THE ROAD

Kaitlin Goodman continues to live by her mantra, “running joyfully,” which since 2012 has not only been the name of her blog but also blossomed into a running movement that continues to remain active despite most marathons shifting to the virtual sphere. And even though the four-time Olympic qualifier tripped and was trampled by a stampede of runners during the 2020 U.S. team trials marathon, she continues to maintain the same attitude that has fueled her practice from the start. “When I went down, it was like my worst nightmare coming to life. I had two choices: stay on the ground and kind of be in shock and feel sorry for myself, or pick myself back up and get back out there. I just had to get up and go,” said Goodman. As a public health professional, Goodman hasn’t competed this past year because of concerns over COVID-19, but is inspired by the runners she coaches. “I had one athlete who actually had a personal best in a virtual marathon. She was one of the top five virtual Boston Marathon runners, which was phenomenal,” Goodman said. Additionally, the pro runner has been active advocating for pedestrian and cyclist rights with her nonprofit, Safe on the Road.

NICOLE DEBOOM
PRO TRIATHLETE & PODCAST HOST OF “RUN THIS WORLD WITH NICOLE DEBOOM” AND “SHE RUNS IT”

Nicole DeBoom finds inspiration in putting herself out there, even if it sometimes makes her feel vulnerable. The pro triathlete and podcast host recently went through two big transitions in her life. DeBoom, who founded the women’s running apparel company Skirt Sports, sold her brand after 15 years due to financial troubles when the pandemic hit. In 2020, she also moved from Boulder, Colo. — after living in the athletic hub for 25 years with her husband, also a pro triathlete, and their 9-year-old daughter—to a small ski town in the state. However, DeBoom was able to find empowerment in new beginnings. “What I thought was going to be a finish line for Skirt Sports turned into what we’re calling a ‘baton hand off,’” said DeBoom on her company being acquired by Zooma Women’s Race Series, another athletic apparel entity. “What came out of this is now I have a podcast with the new owner, Sarah Ratzlaff, called ‘She Runs It.’ You might think it’s about running — and there is some running-specific content — but, really, it’s a topic-based podcast that covers a range of things that women find either interesting or challenging.”

ALIPHINE TULIAMUK
HOKA ONE ONE-SPONSORED LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER

Aliphine Tuliamuk is debunking the myth that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. After winning the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials last year, she made the decision to start a family, a choice she said was her biggest hurdle to date. Tuliamuk’s pregnancy came just before the 2020 Olympics, making the idea of welcoming a child seem out of the question. However, the Olympics were postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, giving Tuliamuk the opportunity of a lifetime. “Once COVID-19 happened, I was faced with the decision of whether to have a family or wait until after the Olympics. In the end, I decided that having my family before the Olympics was my best option, and I was very fortunate to have the support of my sponsors, coaches, agents and family,” Tuliamuk said. Her biggest hurdle then became her biggest accomplishment. She welcomed a daughter, Zoe, in January. Now, Tuliamuk is working to be the best mother she can be all while training to compete in the upcoming Olympic Games and a marathon this fall. “I am very fortunate to have the opportunity and platform to inspire others by being the best runner and person that I can be.”

JAY ELL ALEXANDER
OWNER & CEO, BLACK GIRLS RUN

Jay Ell Alexander works to inspire others by being transparent about her own life, encouraging women to make healthy living a priority, while having a deep understanding of the setbacks that can make this seem impossible. “I am still going through my biggest hurdle — motherhood,” Alexander said. “My son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It has been the biggest blow.” Alexander shared that her 18-month-old son is “resilient,” and her family invigorates her. “My son is the toughest, and my mom is a bada** 72-year-old still taking names on the tennis court.” With so much on her plate, Alexander still tries to carve out time for herself — which has yielded incredible results. “My biggest accomplishment of 2020 was losing 100 pounds. [My] goal is to keep working on my running and strength training. [I’m] trying to get a two-hour half marathon. I [want] to just push through and find ways to make things in my life more efficient,” Alexander shared. “I want people to see the ups and the downs and encourage them that ‘this too shall pass.’”

MOLLY SEIDEL
PUMA-SPONSORED LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER

Molly Seidel already has international travel planned for this year: a July trip to Tokyo to compete in the Olympic Games. But that’s not the only destination in her sights. “I work with Girls Gotta Run, the foundation in Ethiopia that provides scholarships, run training and life skills training for girls ages 12 to 16,” Seidel said. “I’m hoping to go in the second half of the year, if it’s allowed, in November or December.” Aside from young runners, Seidel — who became a Puma ambassador in February — is also working to make a difference for her fellow elite athletes. Last year, she became an athlete representative for the USATF, fighting for things such as better pay and insurance. “Through my running, I try to be as good of a role model as I can and also an advocate for the sport. I think running has the potential to change people’s lives — it definitely has changed mine,” Seidel said. Although her quest for Olympic gold was delayed by a year, Seidel did have noteworthy accomplishments. Aside from competing for the title of “world’s fastest turkey” in costume for a virtual 10K on Thanksgiving, Seidel placed sixth at the London Marathon — her first major marathon ever.

MARIA DALZOT
LA SPORTIVA NORTH AMERICA-SPONSORED PRO MOUNTAIN ULTRA-TRAIL RUNNER

With most races canceled in 2020 and into early 2021, Maria Dalzot — who is also a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist — has turned her attention to helping runners who are recovering from eating disorders and chronic dieting. “Helping change people’s lives by giving them the support they need to foster trust and respect their body is the most rewarding of experiences,” said Dalzot of her practice. In her spare time, the athlete continues to run trails and mountains in Washington, pushing herself for the next challenge, whatever it may be. “Being a mountain ultra-trail runner gives me so many opportunities to challenge my anxiety and prove my mental demons wrong,” Dalzot said. “I hope by continuing to show up — even when it’s hard, it hurts and it’s disappointing — that inspires others to do the same.” What’s next for Dalzot? “My goals for 2021 are to be able to travel and race again and place top 10 at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc OCC 55km in Chamonix, France, at the end of August,” she said.

KARA GOUCHER
ALTRA-SPONSORED MARATHON RUNNER

HOW I TRY TO INSPIRE OTHERS:

“I try to show people the big role that running has played in my life. I [want] to be honest and vulnerable with my doubts and dreams. I share my journey openly.”

OVERCOMING 2020’S BIGGEST HURDLE:

“Losing my grandfather to COVID-19. It was very painful as he was like a father to me, and was the person who introduced me to running. Realizing that
I will never be able to speak with him again or give him a hug has been difficult.”

BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE LAST YEAR:

“Staying sane. I used running more as therapy and a release than for training or fitness goals. With my own work, coupled with helping my son navigate online learning, it was a challenging year. But there were so many wonderful things that came from it as well.”

GOALS FOR 2021:

“I’m still trying to enjoy the extra time with family that the pandemic has allowed me to have. On the running front, I’ve been taking this time without races to work on a little speed. It’s been fun to shake it up and get out and run shorter but faster. Helping others navigate this time is also a goal for the year — helping them see that they are not alone.”

RAHAF KHATIB
RUNNING ACTIVIST, MARATHONER, BLOGGER

HOW I TRY TO INSPIRE OTHERS:

“By being me, being true to who I am, not conforming to society’s toxic standards of what a woman should look like. And by living as a spiritual and faithful being who loves to be active and blog about it to the world.”

OVERCOMING 2020’S BIGGEST HURDLE:

“I was preparing to run in Palestine and visit Jerusalem, and having that trip canceled was a shocker. I had raised $10,000 for Palestinian refugee women and was supposed to visit refugee camps, and I had my heart set on running in one of the most holy cities in the world. [I overcame this through] patience and accepting what is destined to happen will happen.”

BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE LAST YEAR:

“During the pandemic, despite plans and several races I had my heart set on running being canceled, I enrolled in a class to be certified as a running coach. Now, I’m a Road Runners Club of America coach. [Also], getting through a difficult and uncertain time with three kids home by keeping active and learning to explore other ways to move my body in a healthy way.”

GOALS FOR 2021:

“To have my trip to Palestine reinstated, God willing. I would like to run in Jerusalem and visit the refugee women whom I raised money for whilst training for my run.”

Sign up for FN's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.