Posted Suzanna McCloskey on 6/29/2015 |Featured Columns & Series
This year, Girls on the Run will serve its one-millionth girl! We’re honoring this milestone by celebrating what makes each of us one in a million and by showcasing some one-in-a-million women who have made exceptional contributions to empowering girls and women.
Meet Jessica Leonard, a SoleMate charity runner for Girls on the Run Greater Cincinnati since 2009 who is well on her way to meeting her fundraising goal and raising $100,000 in scholarship dollars for Cincinnati girls. Jessica has been a Girls on the Run coach and 5k volunteer and has completed three Ironman races as a GOTR SoleMate — all while working two full-time jobs, one as a personal trainer and one as a high school health teacher. She's currently training for a fall Ironman race in Chattanooga, Tenn., and has raised more than $84,000 to date for local girls. We are sending a big energy award out to you, Jessica!
Here’s what Jessica has to share about being one in a million.
Q: Girls on the Run envisions a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams! How did you start to realize your own limitless potential and pursue the path to where you are today?
Jessica: I have been fortunate to grow up with wonderful, supportive parents who made sacrifices which would give me the opportunity participate in any athletic programs that would help me succeed. From these experiences, I learned there has to be something that would inspire me to do a little more than what is “normal” for preparation for any season. I enjoyed these training sessions, and it was when I started seeing success during competitions that I realized I could do anything I put my mind to. To pursue a path to fundraise $100,000 for Girls on the Run and train for my fourth Ironman is a huge goal; however, the sky is the limit. Why not reach for the stars?
Q: Girls on the Run believes that big things are possible when you keep moving forward. Can you share an example from your own life?
Jessica: I remember fondly a physically and mentally difficult part of the marathon portion of my first Ironman in Louisville in 2009. I looked at some my closest girlfriends... and strongly said, "Never let me do this race again!" However, as awesome friends they are, they smiled, clapped and cheered me on to keep putting one foot in front of the other. After a couple more hours, I could see the finish line in sight. An Ironman triathlon finish line is much like a GOTR finish line: your whole body is tired and exhausted, and you know you left it all out there on the course. However, there are positive emotions flowing through your entire being as you are surrounded by supportive friends and family. You are thrilled, you can’t really believe it is over, and you're pumped up on an amazing feeling of "did I really just do that?" To think about it gives me goosebumps.
Q: Which one of the core values of Girls on the Run resonates most with you and why?
Jessica: "Express joy, optimism and gratitude through our words, thoughts and actions," resonates with me the most. There are many moments in life where I try to remember to look at the glass half full and be happy to be alive, healthy and able to accomplish many great things. I try each day to show appreciation for those people around me, as well as try to tell those around me how much they mean to me. Random acts of kindness attacks have always been my favorite ways to share my zest of life with others...when the people around me are inspired, I am inspired. I have always had interest in inspirational quotes and enjoy reading a new one each day to inspire me.
Q: One of the many things our curriculum teaches girls is how to recognize and work through challenges in productive ways. What is a challenge you have faced (or still face)? How did/do you respond, and what have you learned from it?
Jessica: The largest challenge I face is having the time in a day to do all the wonderful things I want to do. With having two full time jobs and with training for races, I have learned an important thing to try to hold on to… balance of life. I learn to work my short 24 hours of time in my day by either getting up earlier or multi-tasking the best ways I am able to for more balance in my life. These activities of balance include spending time with family and friends, personal reflection time and being grateful for each day. I continue to learn the value of the words of advice, "If it is important to you, you will find a way to do it."
Q: What insight or advice would you offer a young girl today? What would you say now to your 8-year-old self?
Jessica: I would want each and every one of them to write down a list of goals they have, regardless of what they are, and keep finding ways to accomplish these goals. I would tell each girl that years from now, no one will remember what kind of shoes you had on or if your shorts didn’t match the shirt you ran in. However, years from now people will remember how you treated them. Be happy and kind to each other, and most importantly be kind to yourself. You will have bad days, and you will have even more awesome days...live for those days and remember them for a lifetime! I would want each young girl and my 8-year-old self to know your beauty is far deeper and greater beyond anything that is reflected in any mirror. It takes courage to be different, and your peers will admire you for that! You will accomplish great things, far beyond your imagination right now, but always remember to be grateful for all things and know the best is yet to come!