That Girl – Kayla Nolan

What’s your name?394505_10151034410613715_2033807820_n

Kayla Nolan

Where did you grow up and a bit about your childhood…

I was born in Sacramento, California and lived there with my family until I was in 7th grade. When my parents divorced, we all moved to Seattle to be around more of our family. While in California, I was active in a lot of outdoors sports and enjoyed playing games outside with my younger brother. In Seattle, I became the awkward new kid in Middle School but eventually moved out of that role and found new friends and interests in High School.

Where did you go to college and what was your major and interests etc.

I received my Bachelors Degree from Occidental College where I studied Diplomacy and World Affairs with a minor in Urban Environmental Policy. I had a lot of interests in College and tried to make the most of my experience at Occidental. I ran cross-country and track and also played lacrosse for a season. I had the opportunity to travel abroad in Thailand where I studied sustainable development. I also received to grants to conduct independent research in Cameroon and Ethiopia. I was and continue to be, interested in how women create sustainable development solutions to environmental scarcity in their communities.

What is the cause that you are currently involved with and did it all happen?

I am currently the Executive Director of the Girls Gotta Run Foundation, which is a non-profit that empowers girls through running in Ethiopia. I first got involved with Girls Gotta Run when I received the Richter Scholars Award to conduct independent research on the relationship between running and gender roles in Ethiopia in 2009. I spent two months in Ethiopia, working with organizations that provided greater educational and economic opportunities to girls pursuing professional running. After conducting this research, I continued to write up my findings and present them at international conferences, including the Sportswomen in Africa Conference held at Oxford.
Upon graduating from Occidental College, I worked with the Gang Reduction and Youth Development Department of the LA Mayor’s Office as an evaluation researcher for their violence reduction program. Upon completion of that position, I decided to move to New York City with out a job but with the hope that I could create a meaningful and creative new life for myself.


Shortly after arriving in New York City, I was asked to present research at a Sport for Development Conference in DC. It was at this conference that I was approached by the Girls Gotta Run Foundation with the opportunity to redevelop their programs and organizational capacity to reach a greater number of girls in Ethiopia. I began my work as the Director of Outreach, Research and Development and in October of last year, began my position as Executive Director.

What are your responsibilities there?

The Girls Gotta Run Foundation is a small non-profit that is transitioning from an all-volunteer state to one that can hire the staff needed to support quality programming. As the Executive Director, I have my hands in everything that the organization does. The position requires a lot of versatility and creativity. I fundraise, develop and manage our programs, oversee our partnerships, develop donor and volunteer relations, evaluate our programs etc.

What are your near future plans?

Right now, I am moving to Ethiopia so I can have a more hands on role with our programs. As Girls Gotta Run expands, I want to make sure that the staff and program participants are receiving quality oversight and support. I intend to be there for a year and hope that when I return, we will have a vibrant new program and quality Ethiopian staff that will have the capacity to achieve the mission of our organization in a sustainable way.

What are your goals?

I have a variety of goals for work, life etc. A major goal of mine right now is to focus my energy on intentional living.

Why is this so important to you?

My work with the Girls Gotta Run Foundation is important to me because I feel I had the rare opportunity of learning about a unique story in this world – the story of girls pursuing running and a different life in Ethiopia. Stories are powerful and often times require action. I feel fortunate to be able to dedicate my time and energy to elevating the incredible story of these tenacious girls and help them access the resources they are in search of.


Tell me about some special moments and events… good and hard. I heard you were at the Boston Marathon finish line just before the bombings – tell me about that day.
This year has been filled with several poignant moments that I’ve been able to view through the lens of the international running community. I was in New York during Hurricane Sandy, when the New York City Marathon was cancelled. It was incredible to see thousands of runners deliver emergency supplies to the elderly and persons trapped in their apartments. They used their marathon fitness level to delivery supplies on foot, climb up flights of stairs, haul goods to isolated areas. It was a truly unique and inspiring event to witness.

I was also at the finish line at the Boston Marathon this year. I had been there all morning watching the race. About 15 minutes before the bombing, I decided to leave the finish line and go to a café a block away to grab a sandwich. I was sitting in the café when the explosion went off. The air shook as I looked out the window and watched everyone turn towards the explosion. A cloud of white smoke crept closer as the crowd began to scatter and force its way into the café. I pushed my way outside – a police officer ran by me yelling to the masses that they needed to get out of the area immediately. I ran to a block nearby where I frantically tried ot call my family to let them know something had happened but I was ok. As I was standing there, a woman approached me. “Is this yours?” She asked, waving a thermal race blanket in my face. “No” I replied. “No it’s not mine.” “Well people should throw their garbage away instead of littering everywhere!” she exclaimed. I wanted to ask if she knew that an explosion had occurred at the marathon but the words stuck in my throat, choking me. I gasped for air and turned to leave.

Both the Boston Marathon and Hurricane Sandy reminded me of how fragile and uncertain life is. It showed me that it takes great courage to put love first in your relations with people whether that’s a stranger, a partner or a family member. But with such limited time on this Earth, life requires us to be courageous enough to love each other.


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