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Faces of the Rhode Races – Jacqueline O’Hara

This is the first post in a series written by our guest blogger – Jessica Looney.  Jessica is our Fall Semester Marketing Intern from Providence College.  A runner in her own right, Jess has been helping us craft our marketing message this semester and is completing her Senior year.  

“Running gave me purpose again,” says Jacklyn O’Hara, when we asked her ‘why do you run’?


Jacklyn O’Hara, pictured above, finishes her 2nd marathon in Narragansett and completes Rhode Races Rhode Master series (October 27, 2019). But running for her is more than just a medal…

Running is a curious endeaScreen Shot 2019-11-04 at 9.01.02 AMvor to those whose feet do not crave the pounding of the pavement day after day. It’s a physical feat that some people just cannot wrap their heads around. But to every runner, there’s a reason why they run…

To Jackie, she has many reasons.

Jackie’s running career did not begin an early age, as she did not participate in sports growing up or consider herself an athlete. But she does recall, a moment from the third grade where she discovered the tremendous confidence that is attached to running, as she raced against her peers. At this moment, Jackie ran because she discovered the beauty in running that allowed her to “take flight”.

Flashforward, in 2005, Will Speck, a well-respected marathoner and coach in Cranston, RI, and a family friend of Jackie’s, passed away suddenly from a heart attack. As a result of the tragedy, Speck’s daughter organized a 5k in honor of her father and urged Jackie to participate. Considering herself a non-runner, the task seemed ridiculous, (how far is a 5k she thought) but something about running struck a chord with her. She soon discovered that you can train to be a runner, you don’t have to be born a runner. This was a pivotal moment for Jackie. She went on to complete the 5k, and resurfaced not only the confidence attached to running, but her ability to take flight, with the sneakers on her feet. At this moment, Jackie ran to rediscover herself, and to meet a passion she did not know was within her.


As time went on, running three or four miles a few times a week, became habitual and therapeutic for Jackie. Although running was not in the forefront of her mind, it seemed to demand attention. She began to discover her purpose and found Girls on the Run, which is a non-profit organization that fuses young women’s empowerment with physical activity. As Jackie’s career began to align with her running, she began building up miles and dabbling with the half marathon distance. The ability for Jackie to train to be runner, helped her to teach young girls that you can train to be anything you want in this life. At this time, Jackie ran because as it meshed perfectly with her career, she was able to inspire young girls with her own actions.

Then, Jackie’s two children came into the picture, which occupied a lot of time and love. But as they grew, she was able to allow running to reoccupy time and headspace. The distance of a half marathon became less and less daunting, and Jackie, now the executive director for Girls on the Run, RI, felt synergy in her life more than ever. Jackie ran because she loved running, and as she learned more about her body and how to take care of it as a runner, she ran because it empowered her.

Just as life seemed to be right on track, in July of 2018, Jackie’s father passed unexpectedly from a heart attack, the day after her completion of a half marathon. Her ultimate post-race high quickly transformed into a shattering low. Running previously brought joy to Jackie, but with the association of her father, it seemed impossible to want to lace up her sneakers.

However, November of 2018 was a turning point for Jackie. With the incredible support from other strong women in her life, from the community within Girls on the Run and from her family, she decided to go for a run. Running again, allowed Jackie to regain control of her life. No longer was she held back by the grieving of her father but rather inspired to pour her sadness into a healthy outlet. Running became Jackie’s vehicle to work through her devastation and grief.

As Jackie set out to complete the Rhode Masters series, each medal was more than just a medal to her, but rather individual reminders that she is strong and resilient and can preserve through anything. Jackie ran her first marathon, the Providence marathon, in May of 2018. To Jackie, meeting the marathon taught her a lot about herself, and was a transcending and transformative experience. She keeps running, because, without those miles, there would be a void in her life.

Now, October of 2019, Jackie just completed her second marathon in Narragansett, which also completes the Rhode Master series. Standing there with all five medals, Jackie can confirm that running is a transformative experience. Running is something that not only grows with you, but also allows you to grow. Through exhilarating highs and devastating lows, running gives Jackie purpose.

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