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Running to invest in future generations

My running partner quickly surveyed me.

I knew she was probably wondering how she had ended up with this “old guy” as her Girls on the Run “running buddy.” Sensing her skepticism, I attempted to break the ice with a variety of questions about her interests. Eventually, we connected a bit on the topic of music as she shared the names of favorite musicians such as Selena Gomez.

But we would soon connect on a different level.

As chief operating and financial officer for Diakon, I take every opportunity to learn as much as I can about our programs. In the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, we sponsor a council of Girls on the Run®, a physical activity-based youth-development program for girls in third through eighth grades, with a focus on teaching life skills. Each session ends with a celebratory 5k running event.

I attended the 5k to observe the program’s impact and also to thank significant sponsors. I accomplished both of those tasks, but gained so much more, particularly in my role as running buddy.

When I arrived, the Lehigh Valley Parkway was already a sea of faces, participating girls, family members, program coaches, and others preparing for the event. Music blared loudly across the grounds while girls had their hair done, photos were taken and participants were organized and matched with their running buddies, volunteers whose goal is to be cheerleaders and motivators as the 5k progresses.

School buses continued to arrive until nearly 40 schools were represented and nearby parking lots overflowed with vehicles. I was amazed at both the scope of the event and its energy level.

I was soon introduced to my running partner, an energetic girl by the name of Qiara.

Following some pre-race stretching and energy-building exercises, the large crowd of girls and running buddies made their way to the starting line. A countdown commenced and, soon, we were off on the 3.1-mile course. Qiara and I were near the back of the pack, so it took us a while to have space to run. But as soon as we did, Qiara took off!

I had been told by her coach that she was quite a runner, a point that was quickly confirmed for me as she nearly sprinted the first mile. I began to wonder if I could possibly sustain the pace she was setting until I finally heard her breaths start to deepen. It was an almost-welcomed sound for me as I tried to keep up.

Qiara advanced on her goal in a positive manner, also becoming more comfortable with me, chatting as we ran. She periodically asked for brief rests, then would take off again, sprinting as fast as she could go (which, by the way, was much faster than I could go). Eventually, she would slow to allow me to catch up, a cycle that repeated itself through the last half of the race. But the longer we ran, the more we talked and encouraged each other.

She was a great partner.

The last quarter mile or so, we could hear the large crowd cheering on girls as they crossed the finish line. The crowd was definitely motivational to Qiara, and her desire to finish the run intensified as we ran past the cheering crowd. Qiara finished the race with the same incredible level of energy with which she had begun, leaving me in her dust as I sprinted to keep up those last few strides.

I do not recall the time in which we finished the race, but I was told it was her personal best. That said, finishing the race is the only goal in the Girls on the Run event, and Qiara certainly accomplished that mission with great confidence. She had a special energy about her, and I was thrilled that she allowed me to be a part of it with her. Ultimately, she wanted to do better than she had done before and, afterward, she felt good about her run.

As someone who finds true inspiration in people who never rest on past accomplishments but are always ready for the next challenge, it’s easy to be motivated by such athletes as those who represented the U.S. and other countries in the recent Olympics. Certainly, they are inspirational but, sometimes, we may find inspiration closer to us. I know I did.

Qiara provided great inspiration to me that day. She and her fellow participants displayed great commitment to the goal of making it to the finish line, following weeks of preparatory work. I witnessed unrivaled enthusiasm for the task at hand and walked away with great appreciation for every participant, coach, supportive family member, Diakon employee and volunteer and sponsor that made the event happen.

I look forward to returning to the event in years to come, much because of the inspiration Qiara provided that day.

* * *

Following my participation in the Girls on the Run event, I started to think differently about my own training and running program. Initially inspired by watching my older daughter, Serena, a participant on her high school’s cross country team, I started running mostly as an alternative to the gym. I have found it to be a great way to regain some lost strength and endurance, lessen a waist line, and provide great “thinking time” for a work issue that didn’t receive appropriate focus during the course of the day.

But I needed a larger goal to keep things on track and stay focused. Thanks to Qiara’s inspiration, that goal has become the Hershey Half Marathon.

While I was an athlete in my younger days, I was never a serious runner. And although I now have a few 5k events under my belt, I will admit the idea of running 13.1 miles is a bit intimidating. However, I am committed to drawing upon some personal drive and the inspiration gained from others such as Qiara to make it to the finish line in Hershey Oct. 16.

My goal is not only to cross that line, but also to raise donations for the Diakon Lutheran Fund, a supporting organization for Diakon’s services for children, youths and families. Annually, the fund distributes nearly $1.3 million to support such Diakon programs as adoption and foster care, at-risk youth services, family counseling and the Diakon-sponsored Girls on the Run chapter.

I hope you will support me in this endeavor. In an attempt to inspire others, I am pledging a matching gift on the first $2,500, with a goal of raising at least $10,000 for the Diakon Lutheran Fund.

To learn more, please visit

Please help me to reach this important finish line!

Scott Habecker
Diakon’s Chief Operating and Chief Financial Officer.

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  • Hi Scott,
    You may not remember me, but I ran with one of the girls in Qiara’s group at the Allentown Parkway that day. How wonderful to read the story of your run together! Thank you for sharing your experience and for supporting Girls on the Run of the Lehigh Valley. It is a great program that makes a different in the lives of some many young girls–and their running buddies, too! Best wishes as you train for the Hershey Half and finish strong!

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