Maria Awender, lifelong ballerina and esthetician-in-training. (Nels Akerlund photo)

Genuine Northwest Passions

Meet some of the people whose passions for their work shine through their accomplishments.

Jessica Langford, professional runner. (Nels Akerlund photo)

Jessica Langford

Jessica Langford, a lifelong runner, has a passion for traveling the world by foot. She’s run marathons in Boston, Chicago and NYC, but the quiet backroads between her Rockford home and Pecatonica, Ill., remain her favorite route. She helped to launch the Wildcats cross-country youth running program and now shares her passion with high school girls as an assistant coach in Dixon, Ill.
“It’s rare for high school girls to have a female coach who was a college athlete in their sport,” says Langford, who will turn 40 in June.
“To have a woman who’s 25 years older and still competing – that’s powerful.”

Maria Awender, lifelong ballerina and esthetician-in-training. (Nels Akerlund photo)

Maria Awender

Maria Awender, a lifelong dancer, also has a passion for helping others. She spent 16 years studying ballet at Studio 121 in Freeport, Ill., and now, at age 20, studies medical esthetics at Pivot Point Academy, Evanston, Ill. She wants to help people with severe burns and facial injuries reclaim their natural beauty.
She dances only occasionally now, but still keeps her skills fresh.
“I’m catching onto esthetics easier because of ballet,” she says. “You have to have soft hands, careful movements and know what your hands are doing. I never thought ballet would help me to do a facial.”