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Bloomington-Normal Running Group Exercises For Female Empowerment

Kathy Sawyer, Sharon Ware, and Tura Dover
Mary Cullen
261 Fearless MCLP team members, from left, Kathy Sawyer, Sharon Ware, and Tura Dover.

Four Bloomington-Normal women are hoping to bring awareness to a local running club with goals of empowering women.
The Multicultural Leadership Program, or MCLP, is in its 10th year of providing leadership development and service to the community. Each year, MCLP participants break into teams and take on a handful of community improvement projects. The teams then work closely with their chosen organization to achieve a series of personalized project goals.

261 Fearless Club Bloomington Normal was one of the projects assigned to the MCLP class of 2019. Sharon Ware is one of the MCLP participants working with the nonprofit running club.

"It's really an opportunity for women to find their voices and to find what it is that they're passionate about."

“It began by Kathrine Switzer, who was the first woman to participate in the 1967 Boston Marathon,” Ware said. “And as a result of some of the challenges she had in becoming a participant and actually being able to finish the race successfully.”

At the time, the marathon was only open to men.

As Switzer ran, a race official attacked and berated her, trying his hardest to tear off Switzer’s bib number during the second mile. The number on her bib? 261.

Nearly 50 years after her infamous run, Switzer founded the 261 Fearless running club.

“She started 261 Fearless to empower women to actually go out and begin running or exercising or meeting goals that they have personally,” Ware said.

Ware said the Bloomington chapter of 261 Fearless was one of the first. Now, the group has spread internationally with clubs in over 10 countries.

“It’s really an opportunity for women to find their voices and to find what it is that they’re passionate about,” she said. “And to take some time just for themselves to find out what it is that is important to them.”

261 Fearless Club Bloomington-Normal invites women to unite and find empowerment through running or walking. But MCLP student Kathy Sawyer said 261 Fearless Club Bloomington Normal leader Coach Chris Kneer wanted to grow the team.

“Originally, they came to MCLP with a goal of fundraising to meet their budget for covering insurance costs,” Sawyer said. “And then as we talked to them more and as the project period went forward, they refined it to they wanted to increase membership.”

Ware, Sawyer, and their other two team members, Marianela Diaz Hidalgo and Tura Dover, started by creating surveys to see what women in the Bloomington-Normal community would like to see in a running club. From there, Dover said the work was primarily helping Coach Kneer get the word out.

“We created a calendar of events that we feel she should attend in order to help promote the club and give it that visibility in the community that it needs,” she said.

Before MCLP, the four women tasked with expanding 261 Fearless Club Bloomington Normal never worked together. Dover said that unfamiliarity led to some serious growth.

“MCLP has taught us some great crucial communication skills and how to go about doing that. They taught us system thinking and emotional intelligence,” Dover said. “So when things are very frustrating for just not within the group or dealing with getting tasks done, we learn each other’s communication styles.”

She said working with 261 Fearless and her teammates brought out her inner leader.

“Even though the group has just four women, we’re all very busy,” Dover said. “So it’s just stepping forward and saying, ‘OK, I’ll do this task, and this is how I see things.’ So putting my voice forward and my thoughts in the forefront as opposed to waiting to be asked.”

And it wasn’t only putting themselves out there, but also knowing when to have patience.

“Learning that we have to be a bit more specific in the questions that we ask and really listening to the information that we’re getting back and trying to figure out how we decipher it and how we put it forth to the final project and our marketing plan,” Ware said. “It’s been a very challenging type project.”

Challenging in more ways than one.

To better understand 261 Fearless, the MCLP women decided to participate in a run. Dover said the club meets every Saturday morning at 8 at Tipton Park in Bloomington when the weather is nice, or at the mall or an indoor track when the weather is less than ideal.

“We attended four sessions, and it was great. We were very excited,” Dover said. “And then we walked away thinking, ‘Oh, all of us, we need to do this a little more.’”

She said it was fun, even if they weren’t prepared.

“We sort of missed the memo and some of us, we were in business attire with business shoes, but you know, we still did it,” Dover laughed. “And after, she told us, ‘Hey we reached our mile,’ and we were like, ‘Oh, we could continue going.’”

Dover said not only did participating with 261 empower her, but so did participating with MCLP.

“There’s a great need in our community, and many different needs. And so MCLP helps you sort of break that down, what those needs are, and align them with your passion,” she said. “Learn how to align that, because you may see a need in the community and think, ‘OK, I’m going to do that. But maybe I don’t know exactly what it is that they want or how to help them in the best way.’ So I think just for that alone, just getting people to be more involved in the community is a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

Her teammate Sharon Ware agreed.

“You’re going to be very surprised about some of the things that you learn about yourself as you’re developing some of your skills in MCLP,” Ware said. “And one of the things that it fosters is servanthood and learning how to serve in the community and learning what’s important to the organizations that you may choose to partner with.”

But above all, Ware and Dover said the best benefits grow from your passion. So for those considering joining the MCLP class of 2020, Dover said, “Do it.”

“Turn in your application. Get a good support team behind you, because you’ll need it. And you will find that support once you get in MCLP, once you’ve been accepted. But I say go for it, because you’ll learn a lot about yourself, you’ll get to know a lot more about the community that you’ve been in, or are new to, and all the wonderful things this community has to offer. I say go ahead. Go for it with an open mind and get ready to learn.”

The Multicultural Leadership Program brings in a new class every year, with all new community projects.

An information session for those interested in joining the MCLP class of 2020 takes place Saturday at 2:30 at Heartland Community College’s Astroth Community Education Center. Following that session is the MCLP class of 2019’s final project presentations.

Those wanting more information about 261 Fearless Club Bloomington Normal can visit its Facebook page.

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