Our featured Mermaid Athlete for September will be crossing her first finish line with us at the Mermaid Run San Francisco, however she won't be alone as she's bringing out over 15 enthusiastic little mermaids from Roosevelt Middle School in Oakland. Meet Hailee Lanker, teacher, runner, coach and creator of Girls Run Roosevelt. As a teach, she motivates middle school girls inside the classroom and as a coach she inspires them to cross the finish line. Check out her story, learn about Team Girls Run Roosevelt and come cheer them on in San Francisco.
Tell us a little about how you got involved in education and athletics.
Sports have been a huge part of my life since I first stepped on the soccer field at age 6. Through college and grad school I coached within youth soccer and rugby programs and loved every minute. In 2011 I started my career as a teacher at a high school in Brooklyn. Then I moved to Oakland to be closer to family and began working at Roosevelt Middle School.
What's your favorite place to run?
I love any good trail run where my dogs can run off leash beside me.
Dogs are the best running partners! What kind of dogs?
Yes the are! I have two Australian Cattle dogs.
We understand that you are involved with a very special organization. Would you tell our readers about it?
When I started at Roosevelt I met an incredible teacher, Mary Lord, who would become a mentor to me. Mary and I co-created Girls Run Roosevelt in 2014, Team GRR for short. The girls of Girls Run Roosevelt are a unique and beautifully diverse group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Many of the girls are refugees from indigenous communities in Thailand, Burma, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Others are immigrants from Afghanistan, Honduras, China, and Mexico. Our girls are incredibly special and we love to see them thrive within the little community we have created. Team GRR is a band of booty-kicking ladies with a lot of heart.
What was the first finish line you guys crossed?
I crossed my first official finish line with the girls of Team GRR at the See Jane Run race in 2014. It was a very special moment.
That's awesome! Highlights of the race?`
Crossing the finish line together.
What inspired you to start the Girls Run Roosevelt program?
In my first year at Roosevelt I often went for runs after school in the area around campus. Mary had an interest in joining me and her interest trickled down to her students. We announced the initial club practice with humble expectations of 2-3 girls and were happily surprised to see 8 on that first day. The girls chased us around San Antonio park in jeans and ballet flats. We realized then that these girls were hungry for the opportunity to participate in organized sports. Knowing how much sports had contributed to the growth and development of our own grit and self confidence we felt compelled to provide that opportunity to the amazing girls at Roosevelt.
How/Where do the girls train for events?
The team trains twice a week after school in the neighborhoods surrounding Roosevelt. We run over the highway bridge down to the marina, we run through side streets to Lake Merritt and when we want a short run, we head down 20th street where a taco truck marks the turn-around point for our 1.5 miler.
What's the next event for them?
We are still in the process of hammering out our fall schedule but the girls will begin competing against other OUSD middle school students in cross country meets starting October 1st.
How did you hear about the Mermaid Series?
Each year I search for races for the club to participate in, with a keen eye for those that focus on the empowerment of women and girls. The atmosphere of these races is a powerful tool in cultivating that sense of empowerment in our girls. When I read about the Mermaid Series I was immediately excited about the prospect of our girls doing the run.
We're very excited to have Girls Run Roosevelt come to our Mermaid Run San Francisco. How many girls will be crossing the finish line with you?
The name of the race alone has the girls very excited. I anticipate we will have 15 or more girls with us on that day.
Describe the changes you see in the girls after they reach a milestone or complete an event.
Many of our girls have been socialized to fulfill the traditional expectations of what it means to be a girl: they are in many environments quiet, submissive, and approval-seeking. One of the best parts of coaching these ladies is seeing the shyest girls break out of their shell and display shiny, new confidence. When the girls surprise themselves with a faster mile time or with the new-found ease of running a 5k, their joy is absolutely transparent. Through these experiences we have the opportunity to build a bridge between what the girls accomplish with their bodies, through training and commitment, to what the girls can accomplish with their minds and hearts.
How do you motivate them?
GRRś mission has always been to create an inclusive and supportive environment for girls with any level of athletic experience. Some of the girls are intrinsically competitive and pound the pavement with an intensity that surprises and impresses us as coaches. Some of the girls find their way to the club through a desire for belonging and aren´t initially thrilled about the prospect of 3 mile runs. Our most important job as coaches is to set the tone of the club and cultivate the attitude that as runners we compete against ourselves. We encourage the girls to take pride in their best effort, whether that includes frequent walking breaks or not. We want the girls to find joy in the movement of their bodies and confidence in their incremental improvements. The girls also do an amazing job at motivating each other. They celebrate the effort of every runner during training runs and races and not just those who finish first.
Starting a program from scratch has got to be a challenge, what's the most challenging thing you've had to overcome? Hurdles faced?
The club began very organically with not a lot of forethought but I believe what we lacked in experience and planning we made up for with heart. I have been very lucky to always have fantastic co-coaches- first Mary Lord, who we lost to LA, and then Jenny Richardson, who we lost to Brooklyn this summer. Without them the club would not be standing today. I have also been very lucky to have the support of a fantastically generous community of friends and family who have funded GRR since day one. I am grateful as well to the community businesses who have donated to team GRR along the way, with a special thanks to Forward Printing, who produce our team tshirts, and to the ladies of Roots and Shoots photography who have captured some really special moments of the girls in action.
The most challenging part of starting and maintaining our club is, without a doubt, cost. The family´s of our girls struggle with poverty to varying degrees and asking these families to fund the cost of gear and races would be unfairly burdensome. The club is committed to providing girls with shoes, appropriate clothes for running, and snacks for after practice. We also make sure to cover the full cost of participation in any race. It is a near constant struggle to make sure we have the funds required to provide these girls with the necessities and then to celebrate their achievements. I would love for us to one day have team uniforms that the girls can wear with pride.
Where can our readers find out more about your organization?
Readers can find out more about the girls of team GRR by liking our page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GirlsRunRoosevelt/
or following us on instagram @girlssayGRR.
Fans can also contribute to the cause by donating to our GoFundMe campaign at: http://www.gofundme.com/2myggf8.
I am making a concentrated effort this year to regularly update our social media pages so that supporters of GRR can get a glimpse into all the amazing things the girls are doing.