For Class of 2004 alumna Elsa Heffernan, the heart of Sewickley Academy’s mission to inspire its students to pursue their full potential in the service of a greater good continues to play an important role in the way she lives her life and supports her community.
On April 21, Elsa will run in the 118th Boston Marathon as a member of the HealthWorks Community Fitness team. In doing so, she aims to raise awareness and funds for its community fitness centers that cater to women and children in under-served communities throughout the Boston area. We are confident that Elsa’s passion for fitness and health and desire to make an impact in her community will carry her across the finish line – Go, Elsa!
How did you first get involved with Healthworks Community Fitness (HCF)?
A friend informed me that I could get involved in HCF through its marathon fundraiser. I was itching for a chance to run, and because it would be for a cause that means so much to me, I applied and was accepted to be a member on the four-person team.
How does the Boston Marathon help to build awareness for this organization?
The Boston Marathon is one of the most famous races in the world and because of the high interest and visibility, it attracts a ton of runners! The Boston Athletic Association and John Hancock partner with non-profits to provide a way for non-qualified runners to participate in the program. In 2013, this partnership raised over $7.8 million for non-profits. Because of the events of last spring, this is going to be the biggest marathon in the BAA's 118-year history. I can't even imagine how much we will raise this time!
Is this your first marathon?
Yes. I started running on Thorn Street in Sewickley with my dad before classes in sixth grade. I would talk with Ms. LaPrade about my morning runs because she was a runner. I have run a number of 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers, and one half marathon, but never a full. Last year was my first Marathon Monday living in Boston. It was an emotional day and, afterwards, the spirit and community that grew from the pain inspired me to become involved.
Why is Healthworks’ mission particularly important to you?
When I was in college, I worked for the fitness and wellness program at my university (Georgetown University). My team built a core of really great fitness classes and a personal training program that was available to the university community at affordable prices. Watching the impact of these programs on friends and myself made me passionate about fitness as a tool that impacts the mental, physical, and spiritual health of individuals, families, and communities. When I learned about HCF and its mission to empower women and communities through fitness, I knew it would be a great fit.
Why does community service play a role in your life?
For me, community service is a great way to expand my world and become part of something greater than myself. I was fortunate to become a part of Summerbridge Pittsburgh when I was in the Academy's Senior School, and that planted the seed for working with communities outside of my own. I now work for TripAdvisor, which has an active and encouraging focus on service and generosity. I had my first Habitat for Humanity build last year with a few co-workers. Activities like this are great ways to step away from the office and contribute to making the world a better place.
What was your favorite subject while you attended Sewickley Academy and why?
I am a lifelong bookworm, and the English classes at Sewickley Academy were incredible. Not only did we have a chance to choose courses based on themes (or, sorry, abstractions), but we also were able to develop college-level critical reading and writing skills a few years before matriculating!
What advice would you give to a current student who is interested in making an impact in the greater community?
Be brave. Try something out of your comfort zone. You never know how it can change your life and the lives of the people you serve! As Gandhi once said, "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
Who was your favorite teacher at Sewickley Academy?
There is no one in the world quite like Mr. Goleski and that is a shame. He is a fantastic teacher and a role model who showed me how to be confident and intellectual with humility and a sense of humor. I was in his class for three years, and I hope that I picked up a little bit of what makes him so great. He also wore flannel before it was cool, so he's definitely on to something.
What was the best piece of advice you received while you were at SA?
Mrs. Russell was my advisor, both in homeroom and on the yearbook staff. I can't tell you exactly what piece of advice she gave me that was the best, but I can say that her influence and calming presence helped me reach my goals without letting stress overcome me. That practice has been invaluable to me ever since.
If there is one thing you could change about your time at SA what would it be and why?
I wish I took some more time to have fun and laugh with my friends. Luckily, I am still in touch with my SA friends, and we get together to laugh as often as we can.
To learn more about Elsa’s marathon team and fundraising effort visit: http://www.crowdrise.com/Healthworks2014BostonMarathon/fundraiser/elsaheffernan