This week, we have Meagan Kukowski in the She’s Trending interview corner. As Executive Director of Girls on the Run Maricopa & Pinal Counties, we first came across this organization from a local elementary school teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. Inspired by their motivation and youth achievements, Girls on the Run has made an impact with more than 225 councils nation wide. With one of their volunteer program called SoleMates and more, Girls on the Run is literally knocking our socks off. With a fearless leader paving the way, Meagan Kukowski is showing us what it means to run for the gold with the community by her side.
ST: Who is Meagan Kukowski, what do you do and why?
MK: As Executive Director, I am just one member of an amazing team (made up mostly of volunteers!) that works to empower local girls and their communities via Girls on the Run serving Maricopa & Pinal Counties. Girls on the Run is a non-profit positive youth development program dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to pursue her dreams boldly. We work to inspire girls to be the authors of their own stories and teach them important strategies and skills to help them navigate life experiences. In addition, I am grateful to play the roles of wife and mom to two girls.
ST: Tell us a little bit more about your background. Where did you grow up?
MK: I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky (pronounced Lou-a-vul by most of us from the city), which was a wonderful place to be a kid. Eager to see more and do more, I moved to St. Louis for college, where I learned a lot – both in school and about myself – but again, felt the need for adventure. As I was wrapping up my time there and looking for internships, I found a posting for a post-grad opportunity in Arizona and decided that would be the next step in my journey (if they would hire me!). They did, and shortly after graduating, I packed up what fit in my car and headed west not knowing anyone. A few months later, I met my husband on a flight and life has continued to be an adventure ever since.
ST: When and how did you get involved with Girls on the Run?
MK: I first got involved with Girls on the Run in 2005. I applied to be a coach while working for another nonprofit. Seeing the truly transformational impact the program made on the girls I coached, it inspired me to want to see the program grow and work to serve more girls. That season was our council’s second, and we served about 40 girls. This fall, we will serve our 10,000th girl. It has been a remarkable ride, and I feel so blessed to be in this role. But, there is more work to do and so many more girls to reach!
ST: At Girls on the Run, you inspire girls to recognize their inner strength and celebrate what makes them one of a kind. Growing up, who inspired you to recognize your inner strength and celebrate what makes you one of a kind?
MK: I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by strong women – including my mother and both grandmothers. They taught more via their actions than their words, and as a social worker and teachers, they instilled in me the importance of empathy, compassion, and making a positive impact in our community. At the same time, my mom taught us to defy any societal pressures to look or act a certain way – but to be our best selves. There were many times growing up that I felt like I just didn’t fit in, but having the support of loving family members has always been a tremendous support.
ST: The Girls on the Run Program prepares girls physically and emotionally to complete a celebratory 5K. Do you remember your first 5k run and do you compete in them also?
MK: I think my first 5k was also my first cross country race and my first race as a college athlete. To be honest, the start of that season was a complete blur! Looking back, I marvel at my past self for having the guts to try something new at that level. I have never been the fastest, but running has been an amazing outlet, comfort, and source for growth in my life. It cost little (just the price of shoes really), so when my family had no funds to spare, it was always waiting just outside the door. I have had a few nagging injuries so I haven’t competed in the last few years, but I am excited to be feeling better and building mileage. I hope to enter races again. When I do, I will be happily focusing on completing the distance – not competing.
ST: All runners know that a comfortable shoe is important for long runs. What do you look for in a running shoe and what are you wearing?
MK: Finding the right shoe is important for comfort and to avoid injury. I always recommend heading to a good running store to get fitted properly and determine the right shoe for you and your goals. Personally, I prefer something that feels as light as it can, while giving me the support I need. I love Mizuno’s running shoe and run in the new Wave Rider 20.
ST: What’s your favorite thing before a run?
MK: Coffee, good music, and every so often, when he still has the energy, prepping my Whippet, Rocket to join me.
ST: Girls on the Run has an upcoming event on April 30th. Can you tell us about this event and how people can get involved.
MK: The Girls on the Run 5k is a race event unlike any other. Besides being a public event, it is also the culmination of the program for girls participating in the spring season of Girls on the Run. This means 840 girls will come from all over the Valley to cross the finish line of what, for many of them, will be their first 5k. The 5k is a celebration for these girls, their families, public runners, and our entire community. And again, it is open to the public. Men, women, and kids are welcome. Whether this is your first race or your 100th, I guarantee you will enjoy this high energy and FUN event.
Besides the 5k, there is a 1-Mile fun run/walk, which is a great way for friends and family or beginner runners to get involved in the event and cross that finish line. There will also be music, snacks, free photos, a happy hair station, massages, and other fun activities. Funds raised enable us to serve more girls in need.We invite all to join us – as a 5k or 1-mile participant, as a volunteer, as a cheer zone group, as a sponsor, or even as a spectator. I promise a rewarding, inspirational morning. More details can be found at gotrmc.org/5k.
ST: With all of our interviews, we like to sign off by saying thank you! We know you’re trending, which is why we chose you to be one of our featured guests. In honor of our tradition, we would like you to finish the sentence…I’m trending because…
MK: It is harder than ever to be a girl. Girls face so many pressures that tell them how they should act, how they should look, and who they should be. Studies show that by adolescence, girls’ confidence drops dramatically – about twice as much as boys. Friendships become more complicated and challenging, girls’ perception of their academic ability declines, the likelihood of anxiety and depression increases, and participation in physical activity plummets.
Imagine if every girl realized she is full of power and potential. Girls on the Run provides girls with the tools to prevent these statistics, introducing them to a different way of life and changing the way they see themselves and their opportunities. By teaching girls they are the leaders of their own lives, we can enable local girls to change the world.