Thursday, July 24, 2014

Moving Forward


A tale of an unlikely executive director. Who’s next?

By Erin Strout

It was never my plan to be the executive director of Team Run Flagstaff. But it’s the unexpected circumstances that often turn out to be the most gratifying, challenging, and joyful experiences in life.

We were sitting in a TRF board member’s living room in the late summer of 2012. I had just received a job offer as a senior editor at Running Times magazine. In all its clichéd glory, it was indeed a dream come true—a chance to combine my deep love of writing, editing, and creativity with my obsession with the sport of running. And I could do it all from the paradise I’d discovered in Flagstaff, Arizona. I wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve it, but my excitement was difficult to contain.

Two TRF directors. Who is next?
Days later, my coach and good friend Mike Smith was offered the Georgetown University women’s cross country head coach position. A superb opportunity for him—one he had to take. All the way across the country. Not only were we losing a pillar of our little running hamlet, but also Team Run Flagstaff’s founder, head coach, executive director, and board president. One person, beloved by seemingly all, leaving us many roles to fill—in a week’s time.

After discussion of various options, voting, some laughter, and perhaps a bit of panic, I took on the executive director position and Vince Sherry was named head coach. He and I looked at each other across the room like deer in headlights. We weren’t quite sure what we had gotten ourselves into, but we were determined to do whatever we could to ensure TRF moved forward without a missing a beat.

That night, in my mind, I was merely filling a void until a more permanent solution presented itself. With a new full-time job at the magazine already on my plate, I couldn’t fathom taking on more than a few month’s worth of responsibilities. At the time, TRF consisted of Tuesday night workouts, Step into Running, the Snowbowl Hill Climb and the Fourth of July Downtown Mile (which was in its infancy). Manageable? Yes. But still a considerable time commitment.

As it turns out, however, Vince and I both tend to dream big and are driven to give possibilities a chance. And we found ourselves working with a board of directors who nourished those tendencies. Two years later, I don’t consider TRF a running club anymore. It’s a nonprofit organization that supports all ages, abilities, and interests through opportunities in running. To a successful and growing community running group, we’ve added Kids Run Flagstaff and TRF Pro to the family, we’ve grown our events, we’ve expanded our workshops, we’ve worked on long-term sustainability, policies, procedures, fundraising, communication, and sponsorships. We’ve built a strong, enthusiastic, unified community and a solid organizational foundation, which I hope propels TRF through decades to come.

We’ve grown up a lot in two years. That isn’t thanks to me—it is thanks to countless volunteers behind the scenes who put their thought and dedication into what we all get to enjoy week after week and year after year, and also thanks to everybody who participates as members and supporters. Because of you, TRF is poised to continue serving the health, fitness, and performance goals of this community long into the future.

And so it’s time for somebody else to step into this executive director role, with new energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. It’s not easy, by any means, to step aside from a job I’ve come to cherish among so many people who I love, but in order to dedicate myself and my full creative energy to my career at Running Times, I need to create more space in my days (and nights!). In that space I look forward to more running, racing, writing, and (yes!) cupcake baking. I also look forward to continuing to serve TRF in whatever ways are most helpful and appropriate, as a volunteer—I believe fully and passionately in its mission, its people, its purpose in the community, and its future. I’ll always be its biggest cheerleader and advocate—I’ll always wear the logo proudly on my shirt, no matter where I race next.

But TRF isn’t about one person. It’s about all the people who come together in the spirit of better health, improved fitness, and good fun. It’s about a one-of-a-kind community that supports goals of all kinds—whether it’s to complete that first mile at Buffalo Park or make the Olympic team. Everybody plays a part in its success and its sustainability. We don’t have sidelines to sit on in the Flagstaff running community. Everybody has to be in the game.

So, no, it was never my plan to be the executive director of Team Run Flagstaff. But I am grateful for the special opportunity to help build an organization that will serve generations of runners to come. Thank you for allowing me that chance and I’ll see you at the track.

Are you interested in the position of Team Run Flagstaff executive director? Click here to see the job description and application instructions. 

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