Special edition: the runners we’re betting on to change the sport this year.
It’s January again, which means it’s time for another Women to Watch issue. As in years past, I put out a call to readers of the newsletter and others in the running community asking to hear about the women they have their eyes on for the year ahead, whether it’s for their race results, activism, storytelling, community-building, or any other contributions to the running world. I love working on this issue because of the range of responses that come in—and I always learn about at least a handful of new folks who weren’t on my radar. (And it’s always fun to see the repeat nominations, too. Looking at you, Carolyn Su!)
Somehow this is the fourth (?!) iteration of Women to Watch. If you want to check out the lists from the archives, here they are: from 2021, 2020, and 2019. And big thanks to everyone who submitted a response this year. If you didn’t but would like to add someone, go ahead and reply to the newsletter. I’d love to hear more picks from all of you!
“I’m excited to watch Sara Vaughn as she transitions to the marathon (what a fun debut at CIM) and with the support of a major sponsor (finally). And as a mom of four kids, she’s adding to the narrative that women’s athletic careers aren’t limited by age or phase of life. Mostly, I find my attention is drawn more and more towards runners who are doing more than just running, like Mary Ngugi who started the Women’s Athletic Alliance after the murder of Agnes Tirop to support women athletes in East Africa suffering from domestic abuse and to support up-and-coming women athletes, and Carolyn Su who continues to proudly show the beauty of a diverse running community, to take up space in that community, and to show how freaking hard it can be. And joy. I want to see more joy in running as a whole. I still can’t get over watching Alexi Pappas dancing through the streets of New York City during the marathon. I want more of that!” —Christine Yu
“Alysia Montano: She is running her first marathon in February with Every Mother Counts, which I think is SUCH a rad transition for a world class medalist in the 800 meters, and we are also racing The Speed Project together. (LA to Vegas!) in March. So much more ahead for her, but I continue to be inspired about how she has let running grow with her, adapted, and inspires us all to do the same.” —Alexi Pappas
“I so admire the women in running who are paving their own way, making space for themselves rather than relying on legacy publications or brands to open their doors. A few women who stand out for me in this way are:
Carolyn Su, Diverse We Run: Carolyn has taken a passion project and built a platform celebrating the incredible diversity of the running community. Not only does she celebrate runners from communities that have been historically excluded, but she does so with incredible empathy, encouraging her subjects to be authentic and brave.
Emily Abbate, Hurdle Podcast: Emily is building an incredible community of women through her Hurdle Podcast and celebrates running as the transformative tool it can be to live a richer life in every way. Her positive energy is infectious.
Nell Rojas: I loved watching Nell crush the Boston Marathon this year after a consistent, steady, and relatively unheralded rise through the ranks. Her social media channels are exactly what you want from an elite-runner—approachable, relatable, and fun. I love that she's a coach too. I could probably spend another 200 words extolling all the incredible women coaches that shined in 2021—more please in 2022!” —Lee Glandorf
“I’m sure this won't be a unique answer, but I’m really excited to see what Molly Seidel does this year. She’s somehow managed to over-deliver in every single marathon she’s run, and this summer offers the unique opportunity to compete in the World Championships at home in the United States. Eugene is undoubtedly going to be home to a lot of special moments, and I’m looking at Athing Mu, Sydney McLaughlin, and Dalilah Muhammad to lead that charge. I also hope that Sha’Carri Richardson can recapture some of her fire and be at her best for Worlds. Track and field needs her star power! (If there are any editors reading this who want on-the-ground coverage from Worlds, I would love to work with you!)
I’m also excited for the future of Starting Line 1928, a new oral history podcast series featuring interviews with the pioneers of women’s running. The name is a reference to the 1928 Olympic Games, the first in which women were allowed to compete in track and field. We’re on Instagram, too! It’s an entirely volunteer-led project; if you're interested in contributing, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.” —Johanna Gretschel
“I’m excited to watch Zoë Rom as the new editor-in-chief of Trail Runner magazine. Zoë has a firm commitment to the environment, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and I’m looking forward to her making waves in that space. Additionally, she’s also a rising star in the sport of ultrarunning with her eyes on Western States this year. Cheers to strong female leaders in the ultra/trail running space!” —Amelia Boone
“Alison Mariella Désir: activist, communicator, mental health advocate, and in ‘22: book author! Alison’s book is promising to be exactly the message we all need to absorb—about inclusivity and the white supremacy baked into the running world.
Dinée Dorame started a wonderful podcast last year, Grounded, and really established herself as a unique and gifted storyteller and interviewer. I can’t wait to see the direction she takes with year two of her podcast!
Lauren Fleshman: we all know Lauren as an athlete, coach, and founder/entrepreneur. She’s also adding “book author” to her CV in ‘22. Lauren’s book will be a recipe for fixing girls’ and women’s sports. Here for it—the combo of Lauren’s brain and writing chops will be amazing!” —Sarah Lesko
“Megan Roche is a “woman to listen to.” Although she’s experienced a terrifying setback of heart problems, her podcast with her husband David, Some Work All Play, continues to shine light on the fun and scientific parts of running. I’m uncertain about a lot going into this year, but one thing is for sure: Megan Roche is not slowing down in 2022.” —Clare Gallagher
“Ashley Davies: A running and community leader here in Seattle. Co-founder of @run_csrd here in the PNW. CSRD has grown in popularity and power, in large part because of Ashley. CSRD is also known as being one of the most diverse, welcoming run crews around. I go as much as I can, purely so I can be with a wide range of runners. Men, women, all backgrounds, pursuits, running distances. While it may seem simple, having a true leader who shows up at almost EVERY regular run with energy, enthusiasm, and a welcoming energy—it’s truly a feat. Especially during the past few years. I so appreciate these consistent, small but beautiful efforts. It’s really what running is all about, the journey over the destination. Ashley embodies that. The world needs a million Ashleys.
Courtney Carter: Courtney has been a longtime teammate, but seriously, this woman is legend. A few years ago, we were at a race together, and she kidded me about being recognized at the expo. But when she and I went to the restroom, a woman stepped out, looked straight at Courtney, and said “Oh my god, are you EatPrayRunDC?! Can I get a picture with you?” Which I gladly took for them, the woman not even glancing at me. And hey, as it should be! Courtney is radiant and inspiring. She always brings her true self, expansive humor, and no BS straight talk. I seek her out for advice all the time, on business and life. I think the lesson is that we have a lot of everyday heroes around us. Badass runners yes, but also women leading big lives, with interesting jobs/pursuits, and unique backgrounds, And big voices! It's lovely. More of that please.
Faith E Briggs: Faith is a documentarian and has done some STUNNING work, much of it in the active and running space, that combines storytelling and community and powerful ideas in a way that just draws you in. Specifically, the piece she was commissioned to do (by Brooks Running) about the Prolyfyck Run Crew in Charlottesville, and how that community rallied after the white supremacists revealed themselves there. In the sport of running (and everywhere), we need a retelling, an untelling, an excavation of what’s been there all along. Someone like Faith is exactly what running needs, as we have so much to learn about the true history of the sport.” —Sally Bergesen
“I would like to submit two women—both Oiselle professional athletes who are incredible both on and off the track/roads:
Rebecca Mehra: Mehra is not only a talented athlete, she’s also someone whose work will change the sport of running and the world. Outside of being a professional athlete for Oiselle, she works part-time for Galanda Broadman, supporting the firm and lawyers with various cases and related work. This includes numerous cases related to tribal law, as well as police and prison reform cases. You may have read about this case in the news recently. GB is representing Emanuel Fair. Rebecca is also the first athlete to serve on the USATF Foundation board. She has been working on creating language for the new maternity grant that the Foundation is offering for athlete-mothers.
Jenna Fesemyer: Jenna is an incredible athlete and activist and definitely one to watch. In 2021, she competed in the Tokyo Paralympics, London, Chicago, and Boston marathons and then took 4th place in the New York City marathon. Jenna is a champion and advocate for people with disabilities and seeks to normalize what it means to be an athlete with a disability. I have no doubt that Jenna will be making top podium finishes in the next few years as well as creating more possibilities and leveling the playing field for disabled athletes.” —Alison Mariella Désir
“The first person who comes to mind for me is Ashley Davies, runner, coach, co-creator of the most inclusive running group in Seattle, and an all around amazing human being. Read an article she recently wrote here, and hear her on this podcast.
A duo in coaching in Portland (though they coach different teams!) that’s making waves in coaching education, specifically with working to keep girls in running, is Marie Davis Markham and Robyn McGillis. Their Wildwood Running camps are inspiring for coaches and athletes.
Kristen Doornbos: Artist and woman with a disability making a line of cards specifically for runners called Paper Trails Greeting Co. She’s finding her voice and sharing what running and life with a feeding tube is like while also running her small business.” —Meg Gayman
I’d love to hear about others who aren’t listed here. If you have a pick you’d like to send along, reply to this issue or send me a message on Twitter.
Drop me a line
I want to hear from you! Tell me about what you like here, what I missed, and what’s going on in your running life. (You can also follow the Kick on Twitter, and on Instagram. And I’m on Strava here.) Thanks for reading, and enjoy your miles.