FEATURE: Black Girls RUN! Chicago Ambassador Kelli Rockwell on What She Hopes to Accomplish in Her Role, the Struggles She Faces, and a Few Pieces of Advice for New Runners

In 2013 Kelli Rockwell’s daughter Sydnee came home from school after participating in former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! public health campaign. That Friday, Sydnee told her mom that she had to live healthier because she wanted her around as long as possible.⁣

On the following Monday, Kelli made a commitment to do better. In June she joined Black Girls RUN!, a community built to encourage and motivate Black women to practice a healthy lifestyle.⁣

In 2017 Kelli became one of three ambassadors for the Chicago chapter. We talked to Kelli about what she hopes to accomplish in her role, the struggles she faces, and a few pieces of advice for those who want to dip their toes in the sport of running.

Learn more about Black Girls RUN!, find a chapter near you, or make a donation at blackgirlsrun.com

How did you get started with Black Girls RUN! in Chicago?

I got started with Black Girls RUN! in June of 2013. At the time, my daughter’s school was partaking in the Let's Move! public health campaign started by the former First Lady Michelle Obama. She came home and was excited. She told me that I had to do better. She wanted her parents here for a long time. I made a commitment that when she got out of school on Friday I would start on a new path on Monday and I joined Black Girls RUN!

What is your role with the organization now?

I am one of three ambassadors. I've been an ambassador since 2017.

As an ambassador, what do you aim to accomplish?

To spread the message that anybody can run. It's just getting out, putting one foot in front of the other. I know some people get caught up with the name because it says Black Girls RUN!, but it's not just about Black women. It’s for all women, but it's also to show that Black women do run. When it comes to races and stuff, we're just the few that are out there. The more people that see us out there, the neighborhoods we sometimes run through, the look on people's faces, they’re amazed because you just don't see it. Representation is primarily seen in sprints, but to see people doing half marathons and full marathons and ultras and things like that, it also lets people know that we can as well.

We did an interview with a few guys who started this run crew called 7 on Sundays. One of the founders said “we're changing the flavor of running. We're changing the temperature of running.” He was basically saying that running doesn’t look like it used to anymore.

It definitely doesn't look like that anymore. It's all shapes and sizes. As time goes on, it's been seen more and more. I think it’s a thing of exposure. If you're not exposed to it, you really don't know about it. The fact that there are groups like Black Girls RUN! out there running in different communities, people see us, and they're like, “Wow. I want to try that.”

What are some of the struggles in accomplishing these goals?

People are scared to step out of their comfort zone. They say, “Oh, I can't do that.” If you talk with them and you start to help them and they start to realize that this is actually something they can do. A lot of people feel like they can't do it. It’s not easy but if you really want to do it, you can. It takes work.

What's your one piece of advice to someone who is interested but hasn’t fully committed to running?

If it's something you want to do, do it. Reach out. Find someone to reach out to and connect with because it's addictive. The support is addictive. The support out here on the pavement is just insane.

Be interactive too. Don’t just join and be a silent member. If you have goals, share your goals. You'll be surprised that there are women of all ages running. Just have to be willing to put that foot forward.

Black Girls RUN! exists nationwide, but what makes the Chicago chapter unique?

The women are just phenomenal. They're very supportive. They will go the extra mile to help you in any way. I haven't come across any ladies that didn’t want to wrap their arms around you and say, “you got this. Let's go.”

What is your most memorable moment with Black Girls RUN!?

One of my first runs. We did three miles in Beverley. This particular morning there were a bunch of women. There were two run coordinators that were leading the group. One of them stayed with me. The other one was already finished with their run with the other ladies. As I'm coming in to finish, the women start running towards me – it had to be about 10 of them – and I stopped because I thought something was wrong but they were coming back to run with me for the last hundred feet. That totally changed me. They didn't know me but they knew I was out here trying to run.

How can someone get involved?

They can check us out on Facebook. Request to join the group on Facebook. You can also go to blackgirlsrun.com and find a link to the Chicago chapter.


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