2021 ATHENA Leadership Award

In Lola Shreveport, Megann McDaniel by Lola Magazine

Recipient: Dr. Shelley Armstrong

Presented by McDaniel Financial

Each year, the Greater Shreveport Chamber Business Development Connection honors a select group of local individuals at the ATHENA Leadership Award Program. The prestigious ATHENA International Leadership Award is presented to a woman or man, who is honored for attaining professional excellence, engaged in community service, and has actively assisted women in their achievement of professional excellence and leadership skills. 

In 2021, the distinction was awarded to Dr. Shelley Armstrong. Shelley has been a leader in Northwest Louisiana for two decades, promoting wellness for women and children through community programs. Megann McDaniel, another great leader in the area, sat down with Shelley to discuss what drives her. The two talk about particular challenges facing women in business and leadership roles, and as parents and role models.

Shelley Armstrong, Ph.D. is the Academic Program Director for the School of Health Sciences at Walden University. She is also the Director of YOUth Fit & Kids On The Run. 

1. You seem to have a heart for community and giving back. Where does that come from? Your parents or any role models? 

Going back to my roots, my family was involved in church service and missions. However, the initiatives I have created stemmed from my passions for youth fitness, reducing childhood obesity, and the sport of running. When I was at Centenary, I was the Chair of Health and Exercise Science and coached cross country. All kids at Centenary had to take Fitness 101 from me. I noticed the general student body was out of shape and hated exercise at 18-years-old! When I submitted my Ph.D. application essay, I had to submit a goal statement of what I wanted to do with a Ph.D. in Health Studies. I stated that I wanted to reduce childhood obesity in the state of LA through youth running programs. When I set a goal, I am determined and focused. 

My dad (whom I lost to cancer in 2021) always told me to not make career decisions based on money. While my job in academics is very rewarding, my community initiatives are what I am most passionate about, although they are not money-making endeavors.  

 2. Where did the idea for Kids On The Run come from?

I was student-teaching at Judson Elementary School (for my master’s degree) with a wonderful mentor, Linda Killen. She had an exceptional running club. The kids would run their laps around the field, and I realized that if I could provide these kids with fun races, they could apply their hard work, and it would give them the motivation to continue running. So, I started offering Healthy Kids Fun Runs on the Centenary campus in 2004. They were 1 mile and the college athletes would come run with the kids. Initially, it was just Judson and South Highland Elementary schools participating. I started going to other schools to help them create running clubs, and eventually, the races became too big for me to handle on my own. In 2011, I partnered with Sportspectrum to involve more local schools and expand to offering 6 races each school year. This was rebranded to Kids on the Run. Currently, we average over 400 runners per event, from 40 different schools. 

3. Any idea of how many runners have been through the Kids On the Run? 

 We’ve had over 8,000 individual kids/over 20,000 total finishers in the Kids on the Run series since 2011. 

4. Any unexpected results or any success stories you would like to share? 

 I’m proud to have changed the culture of youth running in NWLA. Kids On The Run has resulted in an increased number of middle school programs, and runners at the high school and college levels. Kids that had previously never been exposed to running have gone on to become elite and successful distance runners. It has created young adults that view running as a socially enjoyable form of exercise they can do throughout their lives. 

5. What is the history of Youth Fit and how did you get the idea? 

 In 2008, I hosted our conference championship cross country races in Shreveport. Teams were coming in from states as far as South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan, and Utah. Since we were bringing in so many people from outside of our state, I worked with Patrick Wesley of SPAR to help beautify the city grounds. City programs at the time were your typical major sports: baseball, basketball, football. No real attention was given to sports such as cross country. The conference championship helped open the eyes of city officials to the need and opportunity for running programs. I was given the task to submit a proposal to offer a youth distance running program for the city. In 2009, Youth Fit was launched. Youth Fit is for kids 7-17. I have kids who have gone on to run elite at high school and college levels. I have also had kids that were obese and had never run a day in their lives. The best memory of Youth Fit was helping a severely overweight kid lose 30 pounds over the summer and they went from being completely sedentary to completing a 5K. YOUth FIT was also named the National Outstanding Youth Program by the Road Runners Club of America in 2019 which was a huge moment!!

6. Both you and I run into people thinking we do not work. They often think I simply teach yoga/fitness classes and you are just a runner. Little do they know we both have advanced degrees as well as lengthy and successful careers in demanding fields. How do you typically respond to that type of misconception? 

I think the misconception is that you can’t have it all. I believe we can. We can have successful careers, be involved moms, and be fit too. Since we’ve made exercise a priority in our lives, we are prepared for those opportunities during the workday to take “brain breaks” in the form of a brisk walk, a noon yoga session, or an early morning run. Being well-rounded and fit gives you an edge at career success. I cannot pour everything into my career if I am not physically fit and emotionally well. Exercise is critical to my career stamina and achievement. It helps fuel me with the energy to tackle the day, and provides the confidence boost and stress release that is often needed. Having confidence in what my body can accomplish provides confidence in what I am capable of in my career. It all goes hand in hand.

7. You have two young girls. What are you doing to help prepare them to be successful, strong, independent females like yourself? 

Before they were born, I was terrified of raising girls. My number 1 focus was to develop their self-confidence in themselves in whatever way they needed it personally. One daughter, her confidence comes through sports. Another daughter, her confidence comes through a variety of evolving sources such as art and sports. Allowing them to explore their passions and define their own identities helps provide them with confidence and independence. My girls know both my husband Brad and I are their #1 fans and are committed to supporting their endeavors. They have also grown up at Kids On The Run, Youth Fit, watching me coach, competing (and winning) in races, and being named the Athena Leadership award winner. I am not a sideline participant. I am there to help people be successful or to give the absolute best I am as a competitor. I think being a strong role model is the best gift I can give them. I can tell them to work hard or believe in themselves, but when they see me doing that, they know I stand by my words. My girls are now old enough to be proud of my efforts, which will hopefully inspire them to strive for success. I want them to give it their all, be proud of their efforts, and not live life on the sidelines.  

Shelley N. Armstrong, Ph.D., M.A.T., B.S., MCHES • Academic Program Director, Walden University

Director • YOUth FIT Director•  Kids on the Run • www.linkedin.com/in/drshelleyarmstrong