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21 Women Who Are Transforming The World Through Running

Bhumika Patel

Pinkathon head coach, ambassador for women runners  |  Bangalore, India

Bhumika Patel didn’t discover running until 2009. The IBM program manager had been focused on things like getting married, having a daughter, earning her MBA and climbing the corporate ladder before her husband signed her up for a 4K race through his work, hoping it would give her a mental break from everything she was juggling (including losing her father and watching her mother battle breast cancer). She ended up winning the race, and that day gave Patel a purpose beyond herself, her family and her career.

“In India, marriage is of great importance—women are married off early and they are taught to serve their husbands, in-laws and children,” she says. “They often lose their identity, trying to keep all of them happy. Running gives them an opportunity to nurture themselves, to get out there and try new things outside of their norms.”

When the Bangalore native heard that Pinkathon, a series of women-only running races across India, was coming to her city in 2013, she signed up—and helped recruit about 1,000 women from her IBM office to join her. Patel is now head coach of Pinkathon’s training program in Bangalore, and went on to coach and help visually impaired women from her community who were interested in running.

“After leading a healthy lifestyle myself, I wanted to pay it forward,” Patel says. “[Pinkathon] has triggered a growth in the community of empowered women across India.”

In addition to encouraging women to run, Pinkathon also serves as a platform for breast cancer awareness, a cause that is close to Patel’s heart. “Lakhs [a hundred thousand] of women have become breast cancer aware because of Pinkathon,” she says. “They are now comfortable at least talking about breasts and cancer, while they were earlier very shy.”

In the future, Patel envisions women being able to find a support network within Pinkathon: “Women, especially cancer survivors, find a supportive system among other women to open up about their struggles. I see this as a good-will network, as an unbreakable support system, creating fit, smart and confident women,” she says. “This community has helped my transformation, and there is a fundamental mindset change happening in women and their families.”

Sara Vaughn

Mom of three, 2017 world team member, real estate agent  | Boulder, CO

On an exceptionally hot evening in Sacramento, Calif., at the USATF Outdoor Championships, 31-year-old mom of three Sara Vaughn wrapped herself in the American flag and cried happy tears. She had just qualified for her first world team in the 1,500 meters, finishing third. She represented the U.S. at the world championships in London this past August, qualifying for the semifinals in her event. However, Vaughn is not a full-time runner like most others who run at such a high level; she also holds a full-time job as a real estate agent to help support her family. After years of hard work and missing the 2016 Olympic team—she finished seventh at the trials—Vaughn felt it was finally “my turn” to step up and make the world team.

“I’ve been around the sport for a long time, and I don’t know how many national championships I’ve run in—basically all of them since 2009, minus years I had kids. It’s a lot of work and just really gratifying and satisfying, and all of those things rolled into one,” Vaughn told Women’s Running later. “Just happy tears—definitely nothing sad about it—but it was so cathartic. This is literally 10 or 15 years of work. Finally worth it, finally.”

Jenna Powers

Founder of 40 Bibs  |  Seattle, WA

Jenna Powers is an ordinary woman with a full-time job and a passion for running. Oh, and she’s also running 40 races this year—including several marathons and ultramarathons. The reason for this project, called “40 Bibs,” is Jenna’s 40th birthday, which she celebrated on Aug. 23. By that date, Powers had finished her 29th race, a half marathon in Orting, Wash.

There’s more to 40 Bibs than Powers’ own racing schedule: She’s also paying for 40 other runners to participate in one race of their choice. Her blog documents the runners she chooses to support, sharing their stories and photos from their race days. Some of these runners strive to set new personal bests or confront courses that caused problems for them on previous attempts. Others aspire to complete distances that signify deeper, more personal victories.

“People have been so willing to share their stories—everything from a woman saving for IVF treatment to a 16-year-old nonverbal autistic boy running his first half marathon,” Powers says. “Racing has taught me to take risks, to believe in myself and to be unafraid of failure. I get so excited for others to have the same kinds of transformational experiences through racing.”

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