Running Because I Can

Me, Emily , and Dad near the starting line.

The beginning of this year found me very frustrated.  After six and a half years in graduate school I still wasn’t finished, and the end only seemed to be slipping further away as my time was eaten up by being a teaching assistant and many failed experiments in lab.  The massive amounts of time on task not yielding results had me feeling very down.  I needed a win—something where my time would give the results I was looking for.  At the end of March, my younger sister Emily called me to tell me she had won a spot in the Marine Corps Marathon for this year.  Emily is a middle/high school math teacher in Texas and had taken up running to deal with the stress from work.  Within the past two years she had developed a love for running and had run several half marathons  The MCM 2018 would be her 2nd full marathon.  Emily knew I had been adding running into my exercise routine (I use that word loosely) to prepare for the coming summer hiking and climbing season.  I’m not sure what made her do it, but she invited me to join her for the marathon.

I was on the fence.  My dad was an avid runner when he was in the military, and I could remember when he ran the MCM when I was very little.  I remember riding in the car with my mom to meet him on early morning training runs.  Despite my dad’s influence, running was not something I took to naturally growing up.  I was a chubby kid who preferred to read.  I like playing softball and basketball but hated the running parts.  I was in college before running really attracted my attention.  Thinking about my dad’s accomplishments made me want to be a runner, and I tried many times to make running a regular habit.  Injury and other commitments always got in the way.  At best I was an on-again-off-again jogger with a marathon on her bucket list but no time on her hands.

My dad found out about my sister’s invitation, and then he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: “If you do it, I’ll do it too”.  After my dad retired from the US Army in 2011, physical conditioning became less of a priority and the comfy retirement pudge had set in.  He had celebrated his 50th by running a half marathon with Emily, but nobody suspected he would want to do a marathon again.  To run this race with my dad would be a once in a lifetime opportunity so I took it.  On April 5, I told Emily and Dad that I was in.

The Marine Corps Marathon is also known as “The People’s Marathon”.  It is the largest race in the world that doesn’t offer cash prizes to top finishers and is a very popular race for non-professional runners.  Participation is capped at 30,000 people each year and most of those spots are given away by lottery.  Dad and I had missed the lottery but could gain entry as charity runners.  This is a common thing for a lot of bigger races.  Charities are given or may purchase so many bibs and then attach a fundraising amount to them.  You coordinate to raise money for a charity, and once your goal is reached, you are allowed to race.  Dad and I spent a few weeks evaluating our options and settled on Team Red White & Blue, an organization whose mission is “To enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity”.  After my dad retired, my family moved from Fort Bragg, where we had lived since 1999, to Lexington, KY.  I no longer lived at home but still witnessed how tough the transition from military to civilian life and to a new community was for my dad, my mom, and my younger siblings.  My dad appreciated the impact of Team RWB’s mission, and their emphasis on making meaningful connections between people reminded me of the Corvias Foundation.  Choosing to fundraise for Team RWB was an easy decision.

Moments after the starting gun went off for “The People’s Marathon”

We dove into training with the primary goal being to develop a habit of running 3 or 4 times per week and a secondary goal of building mileage without injury.  I took to my books.  As I learned watching School House Rock as a kid, “Knowledge is power!”.  I read everything I could get my hands on to make sure I was going into training the right way to avoid injury, and I went to free seminars at my local running store to learn more about efficient running form.  Slowly as the information built in my brain so did my confidence and my new habit.

The second week of June my official 20-week training program and my summer of firsts began.  I had never in my life ran more than 5 miles so each new distance felt like an accomplishment.  I had only entered in 5K races before so each longer race I did while training was a new experience.  The pains in my hips and knees were new and different.  The hunger for post-run snacks and the post- long run naps were glorious!  Even getting up early to beat the California summer heat was new and enthralling.  Running and the lifestyle that goes with it had me feeling great both physically and mentally.  I was proud of what I was pushing myself to do, and I was proud that I was rising to the challenge.

My dad and I fundraised together as Team Neutron.  By mid-summer the initial excitement on our fundraising page had died down and I was growing concerned that we wouldn’t be able to meet our combined $1600 goal.  Inspired by a friend who was also fundraising as a charity runner, I decided to offer incentives for donors.  For a donation of:

  • $10, you could add a song to my race-day playlist
  • $25, I would dedicate a mile of the race to a service member of your choosing
  • $50, I would send you an autographed post-race photo
  • $100, I would send you batch of homemade cookies
  • $200, I would send you a personalized surprise

These incentives worked in surprising ways.  A cousin donated $50 just because she wanted the photo.  A close friend gave $200 because she knew “a personalized surprise” was code for “I actually don’t know what I’ll do but I’ll come up with something if I need to” and she wanted me to have to come up with something.  People were excited about being able to dedicate a mile and with each donation that came in, it was clear how much thought and care people were putting into their choices.  With each new name to run for, the race became more significant.  No longer was I running for myself but I was running to honor these people too.

Early in the race with the dedication ribbons pinned to my camelback.

By October 28, race day, we had met our fundraising goal, and my mom had embroidered the name of each servicemember on a ribbon for me to carry with me on the course.  There were 25 ribbons, nearly one for every mile.  I had the ribbons pinned in stacks of 5 on my camelback, and with each mile marker my dad and sister alternated reading the name from a new ribbon.  We then took a moment to share whatever we knew about the person and their service.  When the miles were getting tougher and we were getting more tired, reading each new name became a moment of reprieve from the race as we thought about someone else’s experience.  With each new name was one mile less to go.

Dad and me when things were starting to get tough.

Around mile 20 serious muscle cramps set in and we slowed way down.  We walked a mile and surrendered our goal time of 5 hours 30 minutes in order to cross the finish line together.  I hadn’t done any step of this process alone, and I certainly wasn’t going to start at mile 20 of the race!  We crossed the finish line in just over 6 hours and received our medals.  We met our spectating team in the Team RWB charity tent and spent the rest of the day eating and celebrating.  Dad, Emily, and I demolished a tub of Neapolitan ice cream after dinner and strategized on where it was and was not appropriate to wear our medals in the coming days.

The sweet finishers’ medal

Post-race and post-fundraising my life is not very different from how it was back in April when this whole adventure started.  I’m still in graduate school, uncertain when I will finish.  I am teaching a course this quarter, and things in the lab still don’t cooperate the way I’d like them too.  Thank you notes and photos and cookies will probably sit on the back burner until after Thanksgiving, and tomorrow will actually be my first post-race run.  How I feel about all of this is different now though.  I feel more accepting of the challenges in school and lab and feel less like these challenges are the result of some personal inadequacy.  Challenges are just part of a long road, and with a steady pace I can make it to the end.

Me, Emily, and Dad post-race

Lead365: A Step in My Personal Journey to be an Impactful Leader

By Cristi Rader

Do you ever wonder if you are an effective or impactful leader? I do. What are the qualifications I possess to be an impactful leader? As a young professional, how do I develop my skills to be more effective? How do I inspire others to want to lead in their community or business or academic environment? Hmm-insert thinking emoji.

I received the Corvias Foundation Scholarship in 2007, graduated in 2011, and am now an Opportunity Advisor with Corvias in Cary, North Carolina. Corvias empowers its employees to be truly impactful and its Foundation Scholars to reach higher in all that they do. This year I had the privilege of representing both Corvias employees and scholars at the National Lead365 Conference. Lead365 is an organization “committed to empowering collegiate leaders and professionals dedicated to developing student leaders, to be prepared to serve the greater social good 365 days a year”. For the last three years, Corvias Foundation has sent a small group of scholars and team members to the Lead365 Conference in Orlando, Florida, to support their personal and professional development and to continue to build a network of Corvias Foundation scholars, alumni, partners, and mentors.

I attended the conference as a professional with three college students from across the country: Lahela Daniels, a Corvias Foundation scholar attending the University of Oregon; Sara, a foreign exchange student from Egypt and a Resident Assistant at Wayne State University; and Gerald, a Resident Advisor at Howard University.  Sara and Gerald are Corvias partner scholars; Corvias partner scholars are distinguished students that attend universities with which Corvias has a partnership.*  Through their jobs both Sara and Gerald help students navigate the challenges of their college journeys.

Lahela and I attended the Lead365 Conference with the Corvias Foundation charge to make a difference in our communities and campuses. Although we both are a part of the Corvias Foundation family, this was the first time I had the opportunity to meet Lahela. Her energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and she plans to use her sociology major with a minor in legal studies to make a change on campus. I had the privilege of connecting with her on a personal and professional level during our time together in Orlando, to take risks, and by the end of the three-day conference I could see the new confidence rising out of Lahela. After the conference Lahela shared with me, “I feel that the most important thing that I’ve taken away from the conference is that in order to create your foundation, you must first establish your mission, your vision, and your statement of values. My vision is to start with my community; mentor, influence, and inspire those my age and younger, and to give hope to those who are older, that I will change the world day by day.”

“Leadership isn’t impossible, it means I’m-possible.” This was one of the most resonant quotes from a presenter at the Lead365 Conference. Although, it is fairly easy to listen to your inner critic, this statement reminds me that how we individually show up in failure, truly defines the leaders that we are.  I am continuously learning to be an empowering leader to not only my Corvias teammates but my fellow Corvias Foundation scholars and alumni. Attending the Lead365 Conference allowed me the opportunity to overpower my “inner critic” and allow myself to evolve my leadership skills. I learned from many leaders and presenters in higher education that it is not easy to be a leader, but it is indeed possible. Not only for me but for others too. I can evolve my leadership skills and direct a passionate pursuit to make a difference in others who tell themselves becoming a leader is impossible. I’m-possible and so are they!

The truth is, I do not need someone else to tell me I am doing a good job as a leader, but I do need to feel the 360-degree impact of my actions. James Robilotta, speaker, author, personal coach, and host of the 2017 conference said it best, “As leaders, it’s not only your job to impact others’ lives; it’s your job to let them impact yours.”

Through the Lead365 conference, I have learned that I am a more impactful leader when I:

  • Listen to understand rather than offer solutions—when I am present
  • Engage openly
  • Allow others to impact me and challenges I am facing
  • Take the time to let others share their story
  • Ask for help
  • Recognize moments when a person is showing empathy because we both need this moment.

I know I am being an outstanding leader when the team I am a member of is allowed to learn together. We can learn so much when we value the contributions on all sides.

Corvias Foundation has always inspired me to Imagine. Empower. Reach Higher., and now I can also build upon lessons from the Lead365 Conference to Explore. Engage. Evolve.

*Corvias partners with higher education and government institutions nationwide to solve their most essential systemic problems and create long-term, sustainable value through our unique approach to partnership.

10 Years of Serving on the Homefront

By Doug Brown, Class of 2007

Doug in his father’s flight helmet, Hanau AAF, Germany 1991

One of my earliest memories as a military child is greeting my Dad’s unit back to Hanau Army Airfield in Germany upon their return from Desert Storm in the early 90’s. To this day I can remember the sights and sounds of everything happening around me in that old Army hanger. This is the earliest indication of being an ‘Army Brat’ and understanding what it would later mean to serve on the home-front. Over the next 18 years of my young life, my mother, sisters, and I would serve here at home while Dad was doing his part in some foreign land halfway across the globe. In 2007, after 23 years of selfless service to his country, my father finally hung up his flight suit and combat boots one last time as a soldier. This also happened to be my senior year of high school and just in time for the next chapter in my life, college.

The Year 2007 saw:

  • Apple introduced the world’s first iPhone
  • Virginia Tech Mass Shooting occurred on the Blacksburg Campus
  • The Mitchell Report claimed use of steroids in Major League Baseball
  • US housing bubble began to burst as home prices dropped drastically
  • Nancy Pelosi elected first female Speaker of the House
  • Barack Obama announced his presidential candidacy
  • Corvias Foundation offered its first scholarship class under the name Our Family for Families First

As with most military families, neither of my parents had gone to college or gotten degrees . Military parents often married young and had multiple children with another on the way. We weren’t poor by many standards and always had food on the table and a roof over our heads, but we certainly weren’t taking lavish family vacations or driving the newest cars. So, when it came to school and college, I knew my best shot at being a first-generation college student was a combination of good grades, scholarships, and a little luck. One day in the spring of 2007 while browsing my high school’s newsletter, I saw a section listing scholarship opportunities. Of the dozen or so scattered across the page, one in particular struck me as both odd and a potential candidate at the same time:

“Our Family for Families First Scholarship Foundation and Picerne Military Housing seeks Military Dependents for annual scholarship…”

I had heard of odd scholarships for those that are left-handed, shorter or taller than average, could finish a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded with one hand behind their back, etc., but I had never heard of a scholarship directed solely to children of the military. Even with a great GPA, I still figured myself a longshot due to the of the competitive nature and high demand of scholarships , but I applied anyway at the request of my counselors and family. I got letters of recommendation from JROTC instructors, coaches, teachers, and even my school principal. I poured over my entrant essay for days trying to get the wording just right. This was the break I had been waiting for…this was my chance to better myself and earn a college degree, something my parents hadn’t yet done…ANDDDD I was rejected. I was heartbroken. In what would become the silver lining and a similar story among my other scholarship alumni, I was asked to apply again as they would be doing two award rounds that year to jump-start the new foundation. With that encouragement and a bit of hesitation at the thought of being rejected again, I reapplied. This time, I was accepted into the inaugural class of recipients for the newly formed Our Family for Families First Foundation. Not only would I be going to college, but with almost all expenses paid, the great financial burden upon myself and my family had been lifted.

Like many college freshman, I struggled with the new adjustment of being away from home and, relatively, out on my own. I was just another young, 18 year-old kid trying to find my place amongst a world much different from the strict and orderly military life I had grown accustomed to. Luckily, during the annual recipient award ceremony in Washington, D.C., I had been introduced to Maria Montalvo and Melissa Ballou. They were directors at the Foundation and would be our “guides” throughout our time in college. I wasn’t sure just how much that meant at the time, but it is evident today what they truly mean to the success of every recipient. When I began to struggle with harder classes my second semester, Melissa was there to check-in every so often and see if there was anything The Foundation could do to help keep me on track. Not only had Corvias given me a scholarship, but they were personally vested in my individual success. They were “Serving on the Homefront” as I had done for my father all those years ago.

The fall of my sophomore year, I decided to really press my luck and pledge a fraternity. After-all, I had survived my first year with only a few minor bumps in the road. I was pretty confident that a few social events here and there couldn’t be too disruptive, right? Well, as I am sure you can guess, I was wrong…I actually managed a sub-1.0 GPA! I didn’t even think that was remotely possible, but I am here to confirm, it is! Contrary to what you might assume, it wasn’t for lack of trying or skipping class—the older Brothers in the fraternity made sure we were in class every day and attended study mandatory study halls. However, the late nights and distractions of constant events and functions certainly took my focus away from what was most important to me. There were just no excuses, but it didn’t change the fact that I was completely devastated. I was an ‘A-B’ student in high school and had just about breezed my way through my freshman year. How was this any different? Nevertheless, Maria and Melissa were there to help me with suggestions at a time when I feared losing my scholarship altogether. They had ideas I had never remotely considered, such as, visiting my professors on a regular basis and speaking to my department counselors about tutors and study sessions. Again, the Foundation was “Serving on the Homefront”.

In the summer of 2009, I was invited to the annual recipient award ceremony. Now held in Boston, the event also included a college orientation for recipients.    I hosted a “no-adults” 1-on-1 session with the incoming class so that we could, openly and honestly, respond to any concerns that the new recipients may have had about college life. In planning this panel, The Foundation provided multiple new benefits to it members. New scholars were given the chance to learn from their senior peers, who were already experiencing the same challenges they would soon face. Rather than the college marketing orientation weekend, this was a no-holds-barred conversation about what to really expect when you first step onto campus. The less obvious benefit was the opportunity to offered to the other scholars and myself.  As the youngest of 3 siblings, I was usually the one being looked after by my sisters. This was the first time I really had a chance to be a leader and mentor for those around me. I can’t say for sure, but it was definitely the spark of who I would later become as a part of The Foundation and Alumni community.  It was also the stern kick-in-the-pants motivation I needed to get my schooling back on track and finish my final two years with a bang and make The Foundation proud.

Finish with a bang is what I did! The next two years were full of your typical ups and down in life, but I persevered with the support and guidance of Maria and Melissa who always seemed to pop in just when I needed them most. In the Spring of 2011 I finally walked across the stage and accepted my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Commerce & Business Administration with a Sales Specialization. To the joking amazement of many, I also managed to escape in only four years. I had made my family proud, I had earned my degree and I had finally fulfilled my promise to The Foundation…or so I had thought! Shortly thereafter I received a call from Maria asking if I would be the guest speaker at the annual new scholar & alumni award ceremony. As somewhat of a blossoming leader, I was beyond excited to again get to share my experiences with my peers, the new scholars, their parents, and the rest of The Foundation. I chose to speak about how failure is just a stepping stone of success, a lesson I had learned through the support Maria, Melissa, and the Foundation.

In 2014 the Foundation introduced a new benefit by organizing the first annual Alumni Leadership Summit. We were tasked with brainstorming how to help future scholars succeed and how we could grow the mission of the Foundation beyond its’ original scope to also give back in each of the communities we now lived and served in. Over the next several years, this would become an annual gathering of “the family” as we often called it to honor the original Our Family for Families First name. Together we would derive our current mission statement and alumni vision, perform community service projects, and inspire each other to continue to do good at home.  Perhaps most importantly, we have grown closer to one another by supporting one another and striving to inspire the world around us.

Several years out of college, I keep connected with the Foundation Family that continues to support me with opportunities for leadership and personal growth.  I have become one of the de facto leaders among the alumni. So much so, that I earned the nickname ‘Dad’ during our time in the mountains of Colorado because of my father-like  nature to always be on the lookout for others in the group. This past year in Connecticut, that nickname became even more relevant when I revealed to the group that I would, in fact, be a real ‘Dad’ come this Christmas.

Looking back on the last decade of how Corvias has “Served on the Homefront” and how that mission has evolved is quite amazing. To get to be a part of it since nearly day one, is nothing short of a miracle. Maria and Melissa are no longer our only “guides”, having added Erin Mathias to the Family, and have become affectionately known as the “Corvi-Aunts”.  Like our biological families, they are a shoulder we can lean on in times of need or a listening ear if we just want to share our good vibes for the week. They show us how to care for others and help us grow.  It’s hard to believe that the Foundation could be any better than it already is, but the Corvias way is to never settle and always ask “How?”. I just hope that I can be a part of the Family for many years to come and continue to do my part in “Serving on the Homefront”.