One of the best things about running is that most everyone can do it. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re pretty much doing it right. While running is arguably among the most easily accessible activities, not everyone feels comfortable running. As a group we have to ask ourselves: Is our running community really open and representative of our community as a whole, and what is our role in making it so?
While there are many amazing people in the Charlotte area working behind the scene and in the spotlight to make it more equitable and accessible, it would be a tall order to hear from them all. We think you’ll appreciate the perspectives from three who are making a difference right here in our local running scene.
Tyrone Irby, Together We Stand NC
Tyrone Irby is a certified personal trainer in Durham, North Carolina, and former strength and conditioning coach at NC Central University.
“I am scared,” he says. “I wake up scared. I drive to work scared. And I go to bed at night scared But fear is not new to me, because I am a 55-year-old Black man living in America.”
Tyrone founded a small, grassroots organization called Together We Stand NC after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man shot while running in a neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia. Police arrived on scene, but no arrests were made until cell phone video of the men chasing Arbery down and shooting him surfaced three months later. Two years later, the three men have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The process outraged Tyrone and many others.
“Why did it take the killers of Ahmaud Arbery three months to be arrested when the evidence via videotape was readily available?” says Tyrone. “Arbery was shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020, and Travis and Gregory McMichael were finally arrested on May 7, 2020.”
To get to some answers, Tyrone founded Together We Stand NC. “The goal of TWS is to initiate and facilitate brave, authentic conversations between races and genders for better understanding and heightened awareness of their daily challenges,” he says. TWS launched a series of MAUD 2.23 runs across the state to take place February 20-26 to honor Arbery and provide an atmosphere of fellowship that can facilitate these conversations.
Together We Stand 2022 MAUD 2.23 Runs:
- 2/20 Kick-off at NoDa Run Club NOON
- 2/21 Pizza Peel Matthews Run Club 6:30
- 2/22 RunBots at Wooden Robot Brewery OR Mad Miles Run Club 6:30
- 2/23 NoDa Run Club 6:30 OR Resident Culture Run Club 6:30
- 2/24 Divine Barrel Run Club OR Ballantyne Run Club 6:30
- 2/25 Fleet Feet Charlotte 6:30
- 2/26 Mad Miles Run Club 9am
Jeff Cooper, NoDa Run Club
Jeff Cooper is the director of the NoDa Run Club. The large and popular brewery-based running club meets twice weekly for casual runs and camaraderie, and a post-run pint or two, if that’s your thing. If you’ve been, you know. If not, it won’t take long to pick up the vibe.
“NoDa Run Club is a place where everyone is welcome,” says Jeff.
You can feel it from the first moment you walk up to the table. NoDa Run Club Ambassadors and other runners will be there to greet you and get you started. The group attracts a pretty diverse crowd, which is backed up by pictures on the social media accounts – which is intentional, says Jeff.
“More than anything, inclusion is at the heart of our club and the heart of this sport. Running and inclusivity go hand in hand, and there aren’t many sports where first-timers can compete with seasoned professionals,” he says. “And not only ability levels, but we also want our runners to know that they are welcome regardless of age, race, sex, sexual orientation, and anything else. If you want to run, we want to run with you at NoDa Run Club!” (We also want to have a beer with you too, he adds.)
Take it from Jeff: “Our differences make us stronger. Also, you can’t learn anything new if everyone you meet is a carbon copy of you, and that would be a boring world indeed!”
Haley Heartley, NHCM Ambassador
Haley Heartley is a runner, banker, and dog mom – and one of our Ambassadors for the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon, where representation matters. She also made history as part of the FIRST all-Black team to complete the Blue Ridge Relay, a 208-mile relay race on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. Her team placed 54th of 143 finishing teams. She says the occasional stares and comments were worth it to bring diversity to the sport of distance running.
“In the black community, distance running is not a prominent sport. We see so many black sprinters, but not nearly as many distance runners,” says Haley. “Focus and attention on black representation are paramount.”
Haley says finding another Black woman – Sika Henry, the first Black woman professional triathlete – to be her mentor was an important part of her growth. Sika responded to Haley’s many questions about being a Black female athlete and a professional, and how to succeed in both together.
“Subconsciously, when we do not see other people who look like us, it can be a deterrent from becoming involved,” says Haley. “Sika has been a true role model and inspiration. It was essential at the beginning of my running journey to have another black woman to ask questions and seek guidance. I believe that by breaking the stigma that this sport is ‘not for us’ by increasing awareness of African American representation will increase inclusivity.”
Haley says bringing attention to black representation in the running community will help alleviate the subconscious biases within the sport.
“We all run for different reasons, to be healthy/fit, to compete, or just for the fun of it. Running is not only about success and victory in competition, but about building relationships and community,” she says. “I am so thankful for the Charlotte running community and have met some of the most incredible people. Everyone should have the opportunity and feel included to be in such a phenomenal community. We can grow, expand, and continue to enhance the running community with inclusivity of all people. This begins with exposure, and showing others that running is not only a sport for the White person. My running journey has a large emphasis on bringing more DE&I into the distance community.”
Haley runs regularly with Black Men Run and NoDa Run Club.
“February is a time we can all get a little out of our comfort zones,” she says. “Let’s have those talks, take those runs, and move toward a better future!”