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Learning Curves with the Run, Walk, Roll

Events and Communications Manager Courtney Basso moved into a new role this year at the Joseph Maley Foundation after serving as the Junior Board Director since 2015. In this interview, she discusses her passion for working with JMF and some of the challenges and trials she faced in her new position. As part of her role, Courtney was the leading figure of this year’s 5K+10-Miler Run, Walk, Roll. She discusses her emotions and thoughts before, during, and after the event, shedding some light on all of the nuances associated with planning the the Run, Walk, Roll.

What do you hope to attain by working at JMF?

First, I want people to understand that it is possible to find a passion and work within that. The world has so much more to offer than our pre-conceived notions of a career. I wanted an experience that left me feeling that I had helped someone at the end of the day, and I have that when I see the children and families we support.

Second, I want to be a part of the team that moves JMF into its’ second decade. We are in such a strong place right now with a phenomenal staff and so many wonderful program partners. My goal is to develop a strong calendar of events that propels growth in programming and increases the number of children served.

You took on a different role at JMF this year. Can you talk a little bit about that? Fears, hopes, goals, challenges in your new role?

Although I greatly enjoyed working with our Junior Board in my initial role with JMF, I was coming to the realization that I was growing older, while the JB members were staying the same age (i.e. much younger than me!). I didn’t want to be complacent in my role with them as I grew more out of touch with their reality and so when the opportunity came to move to Events and Communications Manager, I felt it was the right time for a new challenge.  And a challenge it has been.

This role, particularly the events side, is unlike anything I have ever tackled before. I considered myself an organized individual and the past year has modified that notion, to say the least. “Rookie” doesn’t’ even come close to the title I’ve given myself in my own head. While my hope was to significantly raise the impact events have on our fundraising efforts, I quickly found myself immersed in a giant learning curve.

This year’s Run, Walk, Roll: JMF had many hopes for this event, and we tried to do a lot differently. Can you talk a little bit on the process of working towards these changes?

This process was very interesting to me as a first-time events manager. Wrapping my head around the general planning required for the Run, Walk, Roll was a significant challenge, but we also added new elements to the event that took a great deal of effort to incorporate. Among a few minor changes, we undertook plans to add a full expo to our packet pick-up day, developed a new 10-mile course, and utilized a new timing method for our runners. Any one of those additions would be daunting, but we like to aim high here at JMF! One of my favorite phrases, heard frequently at the Enrichment Center, is “You don’t know until you try.”  We tried and were able to identify several successes, as well as ways we will improve next year.

What hopes did you personally have for this year’s event? What fears did you have? What of these hopes and fears did you find realized when the day came?

In a very general sense, I wanted 2018 to be “the best year ever.” The significance of celebrating ten years was very much on my mind throughout this journey and I wanted our participants to be able to experience a memorable event. A fear slowly developed that with so many moving pieces to this event, I wouldn’t be able to fully realize that vision and would subsequently disappoint a lot of people who are vested in this foundation.  On a positive note, there were many moments on the field that day when I was able to glimpse the “why” behind our guests’ participation. So many smiles, cheers, and happy tears…being able to see those moments has been and will always be a huge part of my own “why JMF.”

Can you talk a little bit about the process of preparing for the race in the abstract (paperwork, emailing, setting things up in the weeks and months before) vs. preparing in reality once the day comes?

The months leading up to July feel like a series of checkmarks. Venues secured, outreach calendared, databases created. Then July 1 hits and it’s like the scene in Spaceballs, where Dark Helmet and his crew hit “ludicrous speed” in their spacecraft.

No matter how successful an event is, there’s always room for improvement. What areas do you think you, personally, can improve on for next year; and what areas do you think JMF as a whole can improve on for next year’s race?

I am working more on delegating, which is a struggle for me personally and professionally. In my earlier experiences, if something needed to be done, I was able to just do it myself. Now, with this particular role, and in my role as a mom and wife to three very busy individuals, I am striving to learn when to ask for help and to realize those times when it’s really better to delegate a task to someone else. Simply put, I have to remember to put my own oxygen mask on first.

One of the best things we have planned for 2019 is the continuation and growth of a robust committee for the Run, Walk, Roll. Our committee this year was simply phenomenal. These individuals worked their tails off to recruit runners and spread the word about the importance of what we do. JMF has many dedicated volunteers who want to be a part of our community, so we are moving forward with increased roles and opportunities for our committee members. Using a subcommittee model (volunteer committee, runner outreach committee, JMF Expo committee, etc.) will translate into a bigger and better Run, Walk, Roll experience for everyone. We will also have a team of ambassadors composed of adult runners and high school competitors.

What do you think went well this year?

The positive feedback I received via email post-race was incredibly encouraging. I think the 10-mile course was one of the best things we could have added to our race. We had over 170 new participants for the 2018 Run, Walk, Roll and many of them were our 10-miler competitors. I love that so many new people have joined our JMF family.

I was very pleased that more high school teams joined us on the field this year. The Zionsville team under the leadership of Suzanne Rigg really raises the bar each year in terms of participation and it’s rewarding to see more teams step up to that challenge.

Your position put a lot of pressure on you for this year’s race. If you’d like, can you speak to that a little bit? What were you feeling up until the race? What helped you the most to get through the challenges of this experience?

I live with generalized anxiety disorder. For me, this often manifests as a feeling that any task I undertake will ultimately negatively impact everyone around me. This is the first time JMF has had a centralized Events and Communications Manager position, so I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself to justify my role. I made the mistake of listening to the voice in my head that was saying that if this one event wasn’t successful, it would spell the end of JMF.

While my anxiety is always there, I definitely experienced a “flare up” in symptoms leading up to the race. Unfortunately, I have the tendency to say, “You need to just power through this,” instead of taking a moment to assess where asking for help would be better.

The single most powerful thing that helped me feel ready to rise to the challenge of next year’s event was hearing Vivian and Maggie tell me that I needed to give myself some grace. It is incredibly empowering to hear individuals you respect and admire tell you that asking for help is okay. It’s something that we say to so many people in our community, but it was very hard to live what I preached.

Now that you’ve completed the gauntlet of the race event, what advice would you give your past self, preparing to start tackling this event?

Telling myself that with every event, there will be things that go right and things that need to be improved upon. We cannot have a perfect event, because if we aren’t improving, we aren’t growing. I’m also identifying ways I can be more assertive in my role as I “manage” the logistics.

Having the experience of this year’s event, how do you think you’ll change when it comes time to prepare for next year’s event?

First, we are already in planning mode for 2019. I am currently developing and tweaking a master calendar specific to the Run, Walk, Roll, as well as putting together an overall “how to” binder for each event. Simply living the experience for the first time has prepared me to see where the strengths and weaknesses are—a  viewpoint I wouldn’t necessarily have until I had that first Run, Walk, Roll under my belt.

We’ve talked a lot about how daunting and challenging running this event is. Can you talk a little bit about that? What makes it difficult to manage? What challenges do you face in setting up this event that people might not expect?

It took me a while to realize that the Run, Walk, Roll is now three events in one. We have a family-friendly “festival” event on the field, a 5K with two different elite and open start times, and a new 10-mile option on a brand-new course. While some aspects of the overall event overlap, there are so many moving parts within each element.  How do you maintain a family-friendly environment while keeping a professional racing experience for our competitive runners? How do you balance the needs of your volunteers with the reality of a complex schematic for course marshals, etc.? Where is the balance between cost and return of investment when we need to remain fiscally responsible with our fundraising dollars? How do we control the weather (ha!)?

When much of the responsibility falls on you, it’s hard to find the positive amongst the negative, and you’re harder on yourself than is deserved. Do you have any advice for yourself on how to take it all in, rather than just the negative?

Moving forward, my goal is to indulge in more personal interactions during the Expo and the race itself, so I can have more of the experience of seeing the event through the eyes of our community members. It’s so easy to focus on the minutiae that I found myself losing sight of the big picture. In my role, I now end each day asking myself, “What went well today and what can go better tomorrow?”

What makes it all worth it?

People.  The people who keep coming back to the Run, Walk, Roll every year, the volunteers who believe in what we do, the families who choose to support JMF through their participation, and the staff and Board members who help me remember to smile and move forward.

What are your favorite memories from the race event?

There are lots, actually. I was fortunate to connect with so many new people, including Bob Kennedy and his crew from Athlinks and Athletic Annex. I met inspiring runners like Gregg DeLong, Jordan Kyle, and Sarah Pease. In the days leading up to the Run, Walk, Roll, we profiled a number of our community members and it was very energizing to immerse myself in their view of the event, as it provided a perspective that I don’t necessarily get as a non-runner.

Each year, my best memory is an all-encompassing one: seeing that blank canvas as we unload the trucks at 5:45 AM and then looking back at an empty field at 12:30 PM and thinking two things to myself: “Did that just happen?” and “Can you pack any more awesome-ness into so few hours?”

Why JMF?

The overarching reason will always be the children we serve. However, my “why” has continued to shift to a more personal element, particularly over the last year. At JMF, I am supported as a human being, not just as a staff member. I’m valued as a parent, a spouse, an advocate, a friend, and a colleague. I’m supported in ways that I could never find in a traditional work environment. The most important piece of my “why” is my family. My daughters and husband are considered part of this journey. I want every person who crosses the JMF path to feel that support and love.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Do yourself a favor and attend one of our events. You won’t find a group of people happier to be together, supporting a common cause. Our community is unique and you need to experience it to fully understand the beauty of our JMF family. Our first gala event, the Butterfly Ball, is November 3 and that ballroom is going to be packed with love and laughter as we celebrate ten years.

Interviewed by Gino Maley

Loyola University Chicago

Joseph Maley Foundation Board of Directors