Presencia’s First Trail Race

Presencia’s First Trail Race

For me, running is refreshing and fun. It helps me process stress, think through problems, and feel healthy. I assumed it would be the same for everyone until about a decade ago, when I invited a senior in high school from our neighborhood to run an obstacle race with me.

While we drove from our neighborhood into a gentrified area of Atlanta to pick up our race packets, his posture changed. He sank down in his seat and seemed to withdraw into himself.

“Ian, this place is for white people.”

An accomplished high school runner, he explained that he tailored his training routes to avoid areas where his race could place him in danger of discrimination and violence. He told me about his parents’ resistance to his desire to run because of the danger of police harassment or armed homeowners.

Over the years since then, especially after the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in 2016 and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, I’ve heard over and over, in different ways, that running is different for my Latine neighbors than it is for me. For young women, the dual threats of racism and sexual violence make running twice as dangerous.

It’s important to me that we offer safe and uplifting ways for our students to enjoy healthy activities, so when I came across the Helenback Trail Race, a race series directed by a friend of mine in the mountain town of Helen, GA, I decided to offer a field trip to our high schoolers.

As Jeniffer and I talked about the trip and reached out to our students one by one, interest grew. By race day, we had a group of eight runners registered for the 5k run and two other students who wanted to come along to cheer us in.

We rolled in, checked in with the race director, and registered all our runners. Standing in the sunshine by the race tent, I offered some suggestions about strategy to everyone, and told them that they could probably finish in an hour if they kept a steady walk.

The first mile or so was straight up a mountain, and as I power hiked my way toward the top, I worried. I could think of two or three in our group who would be profoundly unhappy about the difficulty of the course. But they were together with each other, the race was clearly marked, and it was time to let each of them see what they could do.

Over the next few hours, we each finished at our own pace. Some of us seemed thrilled by the experience of the race. Some of us felt exhausted. By the time our last runners strolled across the finish line, all of us were hungry.

We rolled in to town to celebrate over burgers at a local restaurant. As we sat around the table comparing burgers, talking about the race, and complaining about our aches and pains, I realized that the joy I was feeling was at the core of the Presencia experience.

We opened a new space to our students, and walked (or ran) through it with them. On the other side, we celebrated together in community. That’s what this work is all about. 

Thank you for being part of it,

Ian North

Co-founder, director of communications

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