Karen Tindal: Knoxville's Coach

Karen Tindal, 46, is a lot like many other moms in Knoxville. She works during the day—as a personal trainer and fitness instructor—and takes care of her three kids. The former gym director is petite and fit, and wears a fleece jacket and white scarf on a chilly Saturday morning. She walks with purpose, which suits her lifestyle. Tindal has a lot going on.

She recently changed jobs to become the executive director of Girls on the Run of Greater Knoxville, a chapter of the national nonprofit, which started in Charlotte, N.C., in the 1990s. The program's mission is to show girls that they are awesome just the way they are. It involves a 10-week course of after-school classes that teach elementary-age girls (in third to fifth grades) about self-esteem, body image, and making healthy life choices, while also participating in girls-only athletic activities. The program culminates in a 5K non-competitive run, although, Tindal says, participants can "run, walk, skip, leap frog—however you get to the finish line is great." The spring season starts the week of Feb. 11.

"It's good for any girl. The athletic ones are going to love the running part, and they're going to excel at that. But it's good for that girl who has a hidden athlete inside of her and is not quite sure how to bring it out," she says. And the program lets them do that without boys around. "I think the dynamics of a group situation are always different when it's coed. And when you're in fourth grade, you might be a little shy. You might be a great runner but you also might get teased if you beat a boy," she says.

Tindal just became the executive director in December, but her participation in the program started when her daughter, now a junior in high school, first participated in Girls on the Run as a third-grader. Tindal volunteered as a coach.

"I really think giving back to your community is important, and that's really what drew me to the job with Girls on the Run. I just feel like everyone needs to give back to their community and find something positive to do," she says.

But when Tindal finds time between work, volunteering, and her kids, she likes to run.

"Running is kind of my getaway from my students, my getaway from my kids. It's kind of my escape," she says.

She started running nine years ago, just before the first Knoxville Marathon. Her husband wondered over breakfast one morning if she could run a marathon. Tindal trained and ran the half-marathon that year, but she and her husband trained together for five months and ran the whole marathon the next year.

"We didn't run for glory. We knew we weren't going to win. We ran to finish. It was really nice to be holding hands with your husband and crossing the finish line. A week later we looked at each other and were like, ‘Well, now what do we do?'" she says. They continue to volunteer at, and participate in, the event every year.

And, like a lot of families in Knoxville, Tindal and her clan take full advantage of living near lakes and rivers.

"We have a boat, so our family time—we love to go on the lake. We go out on Tellico [Lake] a lot. Pretty much March through November, we're out on the lake. The kids wakeboard. I still cannot wakeboard, although I try every time. We love the lake. That's our place."