We are very excited to announce our global ambassador team for 2019! For the first time, we have Balega Impis sharing the Balega love not only in the United States and South Africa, but also in the United Kingdom and Canada! We received close to one thousand applications and were deeply touched by all of the stories you shared in your submissions. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to apply. Affectionately called our ‘Impi Warriors’ after the honored class of South African fighters and protectors known for operating with the utmost integrity, the 2019 team ranges from running newbies to national champions. Each member truly embodies the brand’s Ubuntu spirit - and we look forward to a great year!
Our Impi team is once again led by ‘Queen Impi’ Kim Stemple, an inspiration for our Grit and Grace Collection. This annual, limited edition Balega sock collection is available each year during the month of October and supports the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP). For 2019, we enlisted the Balega community for submissions for three new motivational mantras to print on these Grit and Grace socks. Just like the inspiring words on our Grit and Grace socks, our Queen Impi Kim Stemple inspires others to continue to put one foot in front of the next with the creation of her organization We Finish Together. Kim started We Finish Together to pass along medals and words of love, as well as support, to people battling sickness, and to share with those doing good in the world.
A sensational runner and mom of three, Ashleigh Lovino hails from Cape Town, South Africa. Ashleigh joins 24 other South African Impi team members this year. This is her first year as an Impi, but Ashleigh has been a runner for as long as she can remember. Ashleigh loves running because it keeps her fit, healthy, strong, and most importantly, sane. Her goal this year is to run a half marathon in under 90 minutes! We cannot wait to cheer her on through her many journeys this year.
Impi Warrior, Lauren Ross hails from Portland, Oregon, and is aiming to run her fastest marathon in October by breaking her personal record of a sub-three-hour marathon. She loves running with her terrier, Pigpen, who can run alongside her for over 20 miles and hold pace with her like it’s nothing. We salute you, Pigpen!
AC Chenu and Caroline LC hail from London and are two best friends passionate about trail running. For the first time in Impi team history, AC and Caroline join 10 other Impis from the United Kingdom on the team this year. The duo enjoys trail running all around the world, and they have run races in several different countries. They are passionate about encouraging fellow women to get out on the trail and start running.
Colorado native Courtney Schwind is an outdoor adventurer to the max. She can be found outdoors running ultramarathons, snowboarding, rock climbing, and peak bagging summits left and right. She loves the mountains, and her Balegas that take her there.
Hillary Michelle is a returning team member who inspires all of us. This preschool teacher is a hardworking, positive runner who never stops grinding. Juggling three jobs, Hillary works alongside children for most of her days, which keeps her extremely active. After years of racing, Hillary is now training for her first half Ironman, which she hopes to complete by the end of 2019.
We are excited to welcome Brooklyn-based Priya Seshan to the 2019 Impi team this year. In addition to being a NYC public school social worker and adjunct professor in social work, Priya is a certified run coach. We can’t wait to cheer her on while she trains for an ultramarathon in August.
Paul Carrion returns to the Impi team again, stunning us with his enthusiasm in ultrarunning and extreme triathlons. He and his twin brother, Alex, are both members of the Impi team, and love pushing each other - whether it’s running, hiking or biking! Paul has completed the AlaskaMan Extreme triathlon, and is traveling to Switzerland to complete the Swissman, which is another extreme triathlon. Paul also aspires to complete the 140-mile Belgian Waffle ride this summer, as well as a 100K trail run.
First time Impi Warrior, Abbey Hausen, is truly unstoppable. She has a rare genetic condition that causes stress fractures and degeneration in her spine, which often makes running and walking painful. However, this does not hold her back from her love of staying active. With the aid of forearm crutches, Abbey now runs with less pain than ever before! She has run five half-marathons, and she also handcycles, nordic sit skis, kayaks, and paddleboards. These accomplishments pale in comparison to her greatest achievement, which was finishing the 2018 Chicago Marathon. With a time of 7 hours and 37 minutes, Abbey proved doctors wrong and smashed her own personal goals to achieve something so spectacular. She cannot wait to represent the adaptive running community while wearing Balega.
Eliyah Hamner is another inspirational returning Impi team member. Community leader, volunteer, and marathoner, Eliyah is 5-year alumni of Back on My Feet, a non-profit program combating homelessness. Eliyah proudly served in the U.S. Army starting at age 18. After an honorable discharge, he went through a series of jobs, drug abuse, and homelessness before joining Back on My Feet that equips people to surmount homelessness through the power of running, community support, employment and housing resources. Since 2014, Eliyah has helped raise over $15,000 dollars for the organization and is currently a member of its young associate board. Balega is proud to sponsor Back on My Feet by outfitting all 12 chapters nationally with Balega running socks.
An inspiration to everyone in his local community of Sandusky, Ohio, and to all of us at Balega, Brian Hackenburg is a career firefighter and avid endurance athlete who runs almost all of his races in 42 pounds of full firefighter gear and, of course, his Balega socks. He also runs in honor of his brother, firefighter Jamie Dickman, who was killed in the line of duty fighting an arson fire. Jamie had started running races with Brian in full firefighter gear to promote fitness for public safety personnel.
“His tragic loss of life hit me very hard,” Brian says. “So, I want to keep running in his memory.” When Brian started endurance racing, he was 220 pounds and very overweight. Brian found performing basic firefighter tasks difficult, which is when he realized he had to make serious changes. Brian has lost 50 pounds and completed 82 various running events in full firefighter gear to-date.
The team is also studded with superstars like ultra-runner Bree Lambert Sanders. A USA Track and Field 100-mile Trail Champion, Bree has finished 80 ultras in 12 years, and is “still going strong.” She’s also a mom and run coach who loves to inspire people to Live Well and Finish Strong. One of her clients is another Impi member, Molly Cuevas, who has been training with Bree for the past year in preparation to run across the USA this spring. Twenty-four-year-old Californian, Molly has her sights set on running from California to New York to raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). We have been following Molly’s journey since last summer. Check out the Meet Molly and Checking-In With Molly blog posts to learn more about this impressive challenge.
“We are thrilled to continue to grow our community of Impis into a truly global team,” said Tanya Pictor, Vice President of Marketing for Balega. “Being that this year 2018/2019 is Balega’s 15th anniversary as a brand, we are excited to welcome more Impis than ever to our family to help spread the Balega love.”
To see and read more about our 2019 team, and to follow our Impis from all across the globe, check out #impiteam2019 and #balegaimpi2019 on Instagram.