With the summer relay season in full swing, we want to celebrate the powerhouse relay team of Baba Yagans. An all-women relay team that is rich in friendship, tradition, and a fun yet competitive spirit. Get to know these women and their unique journey to find running and how it has helped them grow in their relationships and life.
Meet the Women of Baba Yaga: The Powerhouse Relay Team Growing Stronger Together
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you found your way to the Baba Yaga team!
Robin (St. Cloud, MN): I am a founding member of Baba Yaga when we started in 1994. I have been the captain since 1995. This year was our 29th year racing as a team! I am a head cross country and track & field coach at a small liberal arts school in MN, the College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University. I just finished my 26th year at the college. Before collegiate coaching, I was a high school math teacher and I coached cross country, track and field, and nordic skiing. I have competed in over 20 marathons, 7 of them were sub 3 hours, and most of them sub 3:15.
Kristin (Lino Lakes, MN): I am a Registered Dietitian with an MPh in Nutrition and my invitation to the team was from a good friend who vouched for my abilities and character as the rest of the team was new to me. The other 10 women welcomed me with open arms, supported me, and believed in me. My fortitude was tested that year as the hardest mountain leg was given to me yet I rose to the challenge. Living for 24 hours in vans, with sleep deprivation, and 3 running legs to conquer, gives you a good chance to get to know people. I was in awe of the strength of these women, the support they gave, and the confidence they had in one another, all of which they extended to me. Maybe it sounds strange that a weekend race can change your life but it was a pivotal weekend for me. It helped me see my worth, and my abilities, and experience the awesomeness of others all while feeling unconditional support.
Katie (Annandale, MN): I am a kindergarten teacher and cross country coach. I was lucky enough to be coached in college by Robin Balder-Lanoue, our team captain. She has always been a positive role model and inspiration to me. When she asked me to join Baba Yaga in 1999, I jumped at the chance! There are quite a few Baba Yaga teammates that were also my college teammates. I even have a high school teammate that we brought on board my first year of the relay and she’s run ever since! It’s a highlight of my year seeing these strong, fast, and fun friends during our Baba Yaga weekend.
Erica: I joined Baby Baga around 2005 (Coed Team) and then was so honored to be recruited to Baba Yaga in 2011, I never went back to the co-ed team:) I know Robin from being on her first team at St. Ben's back in 1996/97, Wow! Amazing I've known her that long!!
Kim: I am a mother of two, working full time as a Mental Health Counselor, and love to run to maintain balance in my life. Running has been part of my life since I was a little kiddo. My parents used to take me to the all-comers track meets in Rochester, MN from age 4/5 until I started junior high, at which time I officially joined the track and cross country teams for our school. Running has provided me with opportunities to make lifelong friendships with amazing people, helped me push my limits physically/mentally, and encouraged a healthy adult lifestyle.
Shelly: I have been so thankful for the opportunity to run with Baba Yaga for the past four years. I started racing in 1994 in Fort Collins, CO as a 9th grader and competed on the Fort Collins High School team. I loved the freedom and rhythm of running. I continued racing in college at Minnesota State University, Mankato. After marrying and growing a family of 4 kids, I laced my shoes back up and raced with Willow Street Athletic Club based out of Albany, NY. We competed in the USATF Championships and New England area racing events. I have always run at the speed of those I train with. There is so much joy found in friendships with fellow runners.
How did you find running and how has it helped you in life?
Robin: I have been competitive running since I was 13 years old. At 54, that means my running itself is a master’s runner. I grew up on a dairy farm with a big family. My dad wouldn’t let me run on the roads at first for summer training so I remember running through the alfalfa fields. I know that running has saved my life and saved me from heading down the wrong path in life. Alcoholism runs in my family and without running I am not sure where I would have ended up in my life. I believe running can save people and it is a big reason why I coach.
Cari Setzler: I started as a sprinter in high school where I still own a school record in the 100 meters! I went to Aquinas College where I became a 8-time All-American setting 7 school records. I was inducted into the Hall of Fame about 10 years ago. I moved to IL in 2004 after graduating from Veterinary College and getting married to my husband Chris. I have had a dual career rooted in business development and entrepreneurship. I am a veterinarian by training and practiced at a small clinic for 10 years while growing my coaching business as a USATF, RRCA coach, and group fitness instructor. I started a coaching business called Fast Finish Coaching with my partner Brenda as well as a kids program called the Zephyrs training program. I was asked to take over a local training program that was out of a gym and losing money. In 1 year we grew it and made it profitable so that we could re-invest in the community. I was then asked to join a local run specialty store to help grow it to the next level. We were so shocked at the quick success and end up outgrowing the space quickly growing from 5 to 17 employees. For 10 years I teach the coaching curriculum for the Road Runners Club of America (founded in 1958). We certify running coaches that are involved in their communities. “Our mission is to empower everyone to run”.
Havila Brisbois (Minneapolis, MN): I have been running since I was about 10 years old. I grew up in a very conservative home with 8 siblings and we were homeschooled. Athletics were not encouraged for me and my sisters. I think I started running because my parents couldn’t tell me not to and I didn’t need much gear to get out the door. I ran in a pair of Keds shoes! I found out that I loved the solitude and how I felt after running. I started public school in the middle of my sophomore year of high school and immediately joined the track team. I didn’t know the difference between sprints and distance, so I joined the sprinters because that is where my friends were! I didn’t figure out until the end of my Junior year that the mile and two-mile were a better fit for me. I ran track and cross country in college at a small liberal arts school (St Catherine University) in St Paul, MN. I continued to run after college and my partner and I opened a running store in St. Cloud. We have since sold the store, but I have stayed active in the running community and competed in a road racing circuit here in MN with a team named Collegeville. I have two kids. My oldest son (12yo) is autistic and he loves running and being pushed in the stroller while I run. Riding in the stroller helps calm him down when his emotions get big. He can definitely motivate me to get out the door. I still don’t consider myself much of an athlete, but I love running and competing. When I am lining up at a start line and I am feeling all the nerves, I feel very proud that I still do this thing that scares me!
Kim: I have learned so much about life, challenges, overcoming the odds, pushing myself to limits I didn't think were possible, and laughing along the way. Since starting my Yagan journey life has taken many difficult turns and my life lessons/support from these women have kept me afloat. As a team, we have supported each other through the difficult and also amazing things that life sends our way, from the wonderful (marriages, births, travels, careers, adventures) to the challenging (illness, accidents, losses, and death). As crazy as it may seem, I even tried to coordinate my pregnancies so that I would not have to miss our yearly race. Unfortunately, my two kids did not cooperate, so I had to miss a couple of years along the way to give birth, then I was back in action! Running with these women has been such a gift and fills my soul each year. I can't wait to hear where we are going next and who I might have the opportunity to meet along the way:)
What makes your sisterhood unique? How have you been able to stay together over the many stages of life and through the changing relationships with running?
Robin: I tell our college women there is nothing like being on a team. Live it up. When we graduated college, many of us truly missed the team aspect. Running on a relay post collegiately, I was reminded of what you can do when you have 11 other people lifting you up. This is exactly what this team has done for each other. This one weekend we race together, we support each other, and help one another through some tough times… both in the race and in life.
Cari: While competing to win and recording setting is always a goal, this group of women is both internally and externally competitive. The root of the word compete comes from the Latin word compete ”to strive together”. Striving together is what fills our buckets. Some members of the team change due to life obligations however, the team culture remains resolute.
Havila: The sisterhood of Baba Yaga is an exceptional thing. These women choose to spend time together, suffering, grinding, pushing their limits, and exhausted, but also holding each other up and encouraging one another. There is also a lot of fun sprinkled in!
What are tips or words of encouragement you would give to masters runners, about relays and the sisterhood, or just running in general?
Kristin: Believe. Believe in yourself and your abilities. You are capable of so much. Also, age is just a number. Life can start and can improve at any age.
Erica: Keep at it! Enjoy each other's company! Have fun!! Sleep, who needs it?
Shelly: Don’t look at your times. You know your body. Use it well. It will all just click.
Robin: Don’t compare yourself to how you used to be. Instead, celebrate every run and the strength you have to keep going. Let’s support each other out there, life isn’t easy.
Cari: Know what is important to you. Here are some values that are important to the Yagans and apply to relays, as well as life.
Work hard and have fun
Respect others needs
Get the job done
People come before results
Restoration is a key performance differentiator
Thank you Baba Yagans for sharing your wisdom with us! Your team is a testament to the power of women building each other up. You inspire us to continue building community and opportunities for women to push themselves and each other, all while having fun and celebrating the process.