Badass Babes: A Q&A with Denali Lander

The strength of a woman can carry the weight of the world

Meet Denali Landner, a badass babe whose belief in education, the importance of everyone putting love in the world and actively working toward justice and equal access led her to founding Youth Run NOLA in 2014.

Tell us a bit more about yourself,

I am the Executive Director of Youth Run NOLA, an out-of-school youth-development organization that develops leaders and healthy communities through running. After graduating from Tulane University, I joined Teach For America as a 2009 Corps Member and taught middle and high school English at C.F. Rowley Alternative School in St. Bernard Parish before teaching at KIPP Central City Academy to teach 8th grade English.

youth run nola

Throughout years in the classroom, I supported the growth of Youth Run NOLA as a coach, Program Director and Board Member before transitioning into a full-time role with the organization in the summer of 2014. Through Youth Run NOLA, I’ve come to realize the power of running (and walking and jogging!) to build community and breakdown differences amongst people.

I truly believe through this activity, we can make New Orleans a more united community that believes in its young people.

Last year I ran my first marathon and ultra-marathon (never even much liked distance running before this organization), and this year I am running a half marathon every month with three other powerhouse women, after experiencing three of our powerhouse women friends take on that challenge the two previous years. I love knitting and being outside and being with people.

How did you make the jump from working as teacher to running Youth Run NOLA full time?

Since I was young, I have wanted to be a teacher so I was most excited to make that happen after college. Something magical happened when I attended the first Youth Run NOLA practice and in the three years after, as I continued as a full-time teacher and supported building this non-profit in my evenings/weekends, I realized how much love and joy was at the center of this organization and how much I believe deeply in wellness and health. I realized my desire to be a teacher was centered on my need to work around, with, for young people, and Youth Run NOLA was an unexpected gift to my life and way to still do just that.

What has one of your biggest challenges been with Youth Run?

“Run” being in the title of the organization actually continues to pose one of our greatest ongoing challenges, which is helping all people realize there is a place for them in this organization. We think of “run” as a metaphor; young people should take leadership of this city, help positively influence their communities, “run” this city. And when we are trying to get volunteers and coaches and families involved, we have to ensure “run” doesn’t turn people away because there is all kinds of walking, jogging, dancing, laughing, hugging, high-fiving in this organization that we want people to join us in.

What advice would you give to other women who want to start their own nonprofit?

Do it. Find other strong people to be on your team. Non-profit success truly takes a village, and I am incredibly grateful for the people who truly have my back and share my belief in young people, and are out there advocating on behalf of Youth Run NOLA all the time.

Do you do any other activities in the city to stay fit?

All the time! One of my favorite parts of my job is it helps introduce me to other people around the city who are committed to personal and community health. I insist on exercising in groups. It holds me accountable and makes workouts so much more fun, and introduces me to the greatest humans. So I love classes at Higherpower, Body B Fit, Magnolia Yoga, group workouts with November Project, and I am a captain with the run crew, The 504th. Real bonds are built through shared physical challenge.

What advice do you have for women who want to run a half marathon, but are intimidated by it?

Find a friend and/or a team! I was terrified of running my first half marathon, but I was training alongside my youth buddy in Youth Run NOLA the first year we took on the half marathon challenge. She and I have now run five half marathons together because we support one another and get one another’s shared challenge. New Orleans has so many supportive running groups. Right now, my closest female friends and I have a bRUNch club going, where we run distance every Sunday and rotate hosting brunch after. It’s the absolute best, and there is something really powerful about it being for women only.

Your favorite guilty pleasure?

Absurd amounts of popcorn and chocolate. Separate and together.

What’s the best way to get involved in Youth Run Nola and help make a difference?

Youth Run NOLA is always seeking people to support as walking or running buddies, and non-running event volunteers. All paces are welcomed and needed, truly. Our website is a great place to start to express interest in volunteering or reaching out to us directly on social media (@youthrunnola). Making a commitment to your personal health alongside a young person who’s also making a commitment to his/her personal health is a powerful experience, and we’d love to have you. The health of our city is all our responsibility, and the more people who show support for the healthy choices these young champions are making each week, the better outlook for everyone and a more unified community, which we desperately need.

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