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Running into winter

City staffer closes in on 1,000 miles to raise funds for Girls on the Run
North Liberty Communications Director Nick Bergus poses on the indoor track of the North Liberty Recreation Center in December. Bergus is wrapping up a goal this year to run 1,000 miles and raise $2,000 for Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

NORTH LIBERTY– You won’t often find Nick Bergus jogging around the indoor track at the North Liberty Recreation Center.
“I don’t like running inside,” he said. “It’s definitely not my favorite.”
Despite his office in the North Liberty Communications Department being located virtually underneath the track, Bergus said he prefers outdoor runs– even in the winter.
“I’ve got my whole chart for outside temperature and what I need to actually wear,” he said. “This time of year I’m in the baklava and I’m wearing two layers on my legs and two or three layers on top.”
Plus his trusty headlamp, which he sported in his most recent organized run– an evening 5-kilometer event sponsored by Take a Kid Outdoors in Iowa City– while running alongside his daughter Evelyn.
The 11-year-old and other young girls are Bergus’ inspiration behind all the logged miles (a little over 900 so far this year) and his $2,000 fundraising goal for Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa.
“It was a lofty goal, but it seemed like something attainable,” he said.
After running over 850 miles in 2015, he decided to make 1,000 his target number for 2016 and raise money as a SoleMates charity athlete.
“I thought if I was willing to pay a buck for each mile I did, and if I could get someone else to make up a portion of another buck for each mile, that seemed like it would go a long way for Girls on the Run.”
According to its website, the 501(c)3 organization “inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” Founded in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C., the international program has since expanded to 225 councils in 49 states, with Eastern Iowa’s popping up just nine years ago.
“I think the message behind the program is a really powerful one,” Bergus shared. “It’s about teaching girls to have confidence, to be joyful, and to lead healthy lives. It sort of builds around running but it’s not a running program. It teaches girls that they can do it. That’s a positive message. I think that’s not a message that young girls are getting often.”
Bergus and his wife Laura first enrolled their daughter in the Girls on the Run (GOTR) program two years ago. She’s since went through the curriculum– which culminates with a non-competitive, celebratory 5K– three times.
“I remember when she first did it. She was like nope, that is not a thing I’m interested in. I can’t believe you talked me into doing this,” said Bergus. “At the end I ran the 5K with her, and she killed it. And just that message that, no look, you do have this in you. Let’s show you. That’s really powerful. That’s really strong.”
Evelyn is just one of over 1,000 girls in Johnson County and the surrounding area who benefit yearly from either the third through sixth grade program or Heart & Sole, a new curriculum for middle school girls. Both groups meet twice a week after school, at one of three-dozen sites, for 10 weeks with a volunteer coach, who leads them through running stretches and exercises while integrating positive lessons on self-confidence.
“It’s not about whether they’re not in sports,” Bergus noted. “Evelyn loves softball; she’s been in sports. It’s about the confidence building and positivity and being a good person.”
He said the experience has been a positive one for him, too.
“I ran as a kid but stopped in high school. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I started running again– mostly because I needed to get fit,” he said. “But now it keeps me fit. It keeps me calm. My mood is different on days I run and days I don’t run.”
Not only does Bergus support GOTR through the SoleMates program, but he also joined the nine-member Eastern Iowa board, last year, and is currently the only male member.
“He’s passionate about Girls on the Run,” said board chair Kelly Teeselink. “He believes in the mission, and gives his time and energy to it.”
She said Nick’s experience, as communications director for the City of North Liberty, helped the board shape its fundraising goals and strategies. The Eastern Iowa council aims to raise $88,000 each year.
“It’s obvious that he cares what Girls on the Run does not only for his daughter but for his wife and the community,” Teeselink added. “We only serve girls but girls are part of the population so what we’re doing really affects everyone in the community who has a daughter, a sister, a mother, or a wife.”
Although Evelyn loved the program, Bergus admitted his daughter isn’t as passionate about running as he is.
“She is not on the ‘I love running’ train. Nobody in their right mind is,” he joked.
He added she did participate in the GOTR 5K in November as a community runner– someone who runs alongside a girl to encourage her.
As for his own running, Bergus continues to chip away at his distance and monetary goals. He’s raised about $850 so far.
“I’m hoping to make an end of the year push,” he said. “I’ve averaged just under 20 miles a week so far, so I’ve got to pick up the pace here in the end of the year.”

To view Bergus’ SoulMates fundraiser, visit ww.giving.girlsontherun.org/girls-on-the-run-eastern-iowa/1000-miles-for-joyful-confident-girls.