Every Runner Has a Story

If you would have told me four years ago that I would complete about 40 races that included 9 half marathons, and two full marathons, I would have looked at you in disbelief and laugh. Growing up in Harlem, I was never exposed to running. My mom put me into tap, ballet, modern jazz and African dance classes, but absolutely nothing that I did as a child was associated with the sport of running.

My run journey started in early spring 2012. During that time, I was experiencing some personal obstacles that eventually led me to neglect my emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. I had spiraled into a depression, and had no motivation to do virtually anything. I was also in the midst of completing a graduate degree program, and was on the brink of “calling it quits” just a semester shy of my graduation date. However, with the immense support of a few family members and close friends, I was able to get out of bed and start to put some of the pieces of my life back together.

I came across a flyer in my neighborhood about free activities and exercise programs at my local Armory. I decided to take a cardio dance class because it was a way for me to become engaged in some sort of physical movement which ultimately started to improve my overall mood and outlook on things. The instructor was a runner, and would discuss her passion for the sport. She suggested that if anyone was interested, we could meet at the local track, share our various fitness goals and challenges, and begin to learn the fundamentals of running.

Every Saturday morning, I would meet her and a handful of womyn at the track on 145th Street for a few laps of walking and jogging. It was a source of community and accountability. After a few weeks, she shared that the Percy Sutton 5k was scheduled to take place that August, and collectively we agreed to make that group goal – to complete a 5k.   

Now, waking up on Saturday mornings for a walk / run group was one thing. But, to train for a 5k?? All of those familiar feelings of fear and disbelief started to resurface. I shared my feelings and concerns with the group, and was reassured that completing the distance was extremely possible. So, on that hot and humid August morning, I rose to the occasion and completed my first 5k. Crossing that finish line was an emotional event. It symbolized all of the hard work I put towards my training, and overall belief in myself that I could complete something that I thought was totally unattainable.

Training for that 5k kick-started a journey to strive to be a healthier version of myself – mind, body and spirit. After exploring and testing my limits with a few 5ks and 10ks, I decided to strive for a half marathon. The 2014 Brooklyn Half was my first half marathon ever, and on that day I challenged myself to complete a marathon by age 30 (or 35…because the disbelief revved up again). So at 29-years-old and two full-marathons later, I say to anyone who is in disbelief of completing any goal, to go for it!

Having collectives like Harlem Run in the neighborhood where I grew up is such a precious resource to have access to. Of course people show up to run. But, you gain so much more than that. You meet people of diverse backgrounds because you all share the same interest – running. Every runner has a story, and every runner is an inspiration in her or his own way. I am just honored to have the platform to share my voice and my story.


Amir FigueroaComment