By Jacqueline J. Holness
As this issue is devoted to sports, the intersection of sports, particularly running, and culture will be the focus of this column. Had I been assigned to write this column as an adolescent, I would have had very little to say as I preferred the company of potato chips, a comfy couch, and a good book to anything involving exertion, skill, and sweat—three requisites of sports.
Fit for Life
But fast forward a few years when I discovered I had to take one Physical Education (P.E.) class in order to graduate from college. At first the P.E. requirement didn’t bother me, as I just decided to enroll in one of the many walking classes at University of Georgia. Imagine my terror when I discovered all of them were full, and I had to enroll in a running class! The class was entitled “Fitness for Life” and was taught by an older gentleman who was in great shape. I was so intimidated—and for good reason. I was the slowest person in the class, and we had to run around the school’s colossal campus. In fact, sometimes my teacher had to run with me so I wouldn’t be completely alone and lost, as I was often far behind the rest of the class.
But by the quarter’s end, I could run four miles without stopping, and I lost 20 pounds! The teacher told us he wanted to inspire us to be fit for life. I don’t remember his name, and I’m not sure that I would recognize him if I saw him today, but if I saw him, I would tell him I that I’m still running, I never regained those 20 pounds, and I’m committed to being fit for life.
Since I took that class, running has become one of the loves of my life. When I run, I feel free yet connected to all that God made around me. It’s like a miracle happens every time my legs carry me mile after mile. In 2004, to celebrate 10 years of running, I began training for a marathon. When I started training with a group, my longest distance was 6.2 miles, as I had started running Atlanta’s AJC Peachtree Road Race, the largest 10K in the world, in my 20s. I wasn’t sure if I could do a full marathon. But Saturday after Saturday I met my training group, and we ran all over Atlanta, running short distances at first and adding mileage over time. By November 2004, I ran the Atlanta Marathon on Thanksgiving Day. Although I was one of the slowest marathoners out there, I did it!
Hitting the Road
While, God willing, I plan to run in road races for the rest of my life, “the number of recreational athletes completing road races declined for the second straight year in 2015,” despite 20 years of previous growth, according to Running USA last May. From 1990 to 2013, the sport experienced a 300 percent growth, but the number of runners went down from 18,750,000 in 2014 to 17,114,800 in 2015, meaning the sport experienced a 9 percent loss.
However, despite the decline in overall participation, new groups are discovering running, according to a 2016 The Wall Street Journal article “Black Runners Are Changing the Face of the Sport” by Rachel Bachman. Citing Running USA statistics exhibiting growth in black runners, particularly in large cities, Bachman interviewed Rich Kenah, executive director of the Atlanta Track Club. Kenah noted that black runners comprise 17 percent of the 26,000-member club, representing a 12 percent increase from 2015.
While black runners have excelled in professional running, such as in the Olympics, for many years, amateur road racing has typically been a white pastime, according to additional Running USA statistics. In fact in 2009 when Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks-Rocha cofounded Black Girls Run, a social group to promote running among black women, they were told that “black people don’t run.” Now the group has 200,000 Facebook followers and 70 chapters throughout the country. In addition to helping black people lose weight, these types of groups are also helping them address their “greater risk of obesity, heart disease and stroke than the general population.”
As I’ve been running for over 20 years now, I have certainly helped to preserve my temple of the Holy Spirit, and I hope to keep it up. I’ve run a long way from the couch!
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).