Afro-Latina Runner Maria Solis Belizaire Empowers Our Community
Maria Solis Belizaire, an Afro-Latina runner and activist is founder of Latinos Run. Never did Maria believe that cultivating interest and a community for running would shape her mind, body and soul. In 2018, Maria launched a campaign called Project Run 50 where will run in each state across the United States and Puerto Rico to meet more Latinx and further empower the community to lace up and get active.
“Latinos Run isn’t just about ‘running’.’ It’s about a lifestyle change.”
To date, Latinos Run is a growing movement that hosts group runs and events in New York City and hosts pop up events across the country in California, Florida, Washington D.C, Pennsylvania and with international presence! For Maria, there is power in numbers and correlates with the growing U.S. Latinx population as a whole. Latinos Run is chasing progress…for our community, no pun intended.
According to Runner’s World magazine, Latino/Black and other People of Color (POC) running clubs or groups are on the rise. Latino/POC running clubs are accomplishing a few things – building a movement of health and mental awareness, a family or community of like-minded Latinx and changing stereotypes of Latinx not being athletes.
Culturally, Latino runners do exist and part of our culture. Over the years, stories of inspiring Latina/x and/or indigenous runners from Mexico, Central America – Guatemala competing in 26 mile marathons, have surfaced. Running is ancestral. The sport of track and field which includes multiple running events has Latinx representation like fast-running “first Latina” in her family, Olympian Brenda Martinez.
“Running provides many benefits”, Maria says, “One of the most important benefits for myself and other Latina runners is the family environment it creates. The advice we give each other, the bonds we build, the way we support and push each other, and most importantly the amount of fun we have.”
When Maria launched Latinos Run she did her research on the health benefits of running specifically she was curious as to why more Latinx were turning to running. Aside from the obvious reason of physical health gain, Maria who is a proud Afro-Latina runner was amazed by the countless stories of mental health challenges like depression among the running group members. For our community, seeking therapy or mental health can be taboo or shunned upon. For Black, Latina, Afro-Latinas and others who identify as women of color – – we face an increasing rate of mental health issues – running can be the answer. Maria knew running for herself was a form of therapy.
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Maria says, “After a run I would get what we call a “runners high” which is described after a run a the feeling of peace and relaxation.” Studies show that the physical activity of running works to release endorphins which in turn acts as a natural antidepressant that also reduces stress, mood swings, and has been know to alleviate anxiety.
Running is known to boost levels of the protein BDNF (or brain-derived neurotrophic factor), and the neurotransmitter catecholamine, which are heavily associated with the brain’s cognitive functions. This leads to a sharper memory, increased creativity while protecting the brain from aging….… and we all know a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.
“Being an Afro-Latina runner, I have noticed significant changes personally in so many areas. From financial to physical and even mental, the benefits are countless. When I first started running I had already spent years and thousands of dollars at gyms that lead to dead ends. I was oftentimes alone and unmotivated. Running in a group was basically as cost affective as it could get b/c most running clubs are completely free which allows you to ditch the gym and many times the club while getting a great workout in with an amazing group of like-minded individuals. A part from the financial benefits, there are the physical benefits. Running is a great way to burn calories faster than most activities which helps you lose weight and keep it off. It’s also been known to help you sleep better, alleviate cramps due to menstruation, and improve your cardiovascular health.” According to the Journal of American College of Cardiology 5 minutes a day is all you need and can add years to your life.
5 minutes a day? We can do that! Get yo’ sneakers out!
For more information about Latinos Run or join the group!