by Sydney Valerio
June 4, 2023
On Your Mark…
If you have positioned yourself at a start line, a volunteer post, or a cheering section at one of Race The Bronx’s events in 2023 then you already know the energy RTB and the running community have brought to local Bronx parks. It’s June and you won’t want to miss the remaining events for of the year.
This year’s calendar has included the Soundview 5K and the Orchard Beach Mile. Both events filled up Bronx parks in April with runners of all generations and volunteers whose efforts continue to make Race The Bronx events a great success and have a huge impact on the lives of people in New York City. Next up on the calendar is a series of free events exclusively for youth just in time to kick off summer. We hope you share these experiences with the young runners in your community, family, and networks.
All of the Youth In Movement Summer Series events are free and take place in the following Bronx parks: Pelham Bay Park (7/1), Soundview Park (7/15), and Joseph Yancey Track (8/19).
As noted on the Race The Bronx website, “This series is perfect for young runners of all levels, and is a great way to promote health and wellness while having fun with other members of the community.” The series includes a set of professional runners whose work with Atalanta focuses on mentoring youth in the NYC community. Last month, I was able to have a conversation with Atalanta’s runners to learn more about their organization.
a Race The Bronx Conversation with Atalanta
This is your second year participating in Race The Bronx’s Youth In Movement Summer series. Can you tell us about Atalanta’s work with Bronx youth?
My name is Karissa Nelson and my teammate's name is Aoibhe Richardson, we both run for Atalanta and we're both professional runners. Atalanta's whole purpose is to change the professional running model.
The current model makes it hard for an athlete’s mental health to be stable. When you're training all day just for your one event, if it doesn't go well, it becomes all you have to think about all day. It’s not a very healthy setup. So what Atalanta is trying to do is have professional runners also have other healthy tasks to do so that they're not always just thinking about training.
So what we're passionate about doing is giving the kids in underserved communities what they deserve. My teammate Aoibhe and I go up to the Bronx weekly to Lehman High School and run practices with the high school teams. We try to give them the resources they need to be the best athletes they can be. They don’t need to become professional runners but what we teach them is focused on healthy movement.
I love that you are driving that message of healthy movement and lifestyle.
Yes, you know, it’s important to just get youth moving, show them what a healthy lifestyle is and also, show them how fun it is to improve and to make progress. It's a mindset thing too.
We have one girl Krystell, the first time we met her last year, she was a 200 meter runner and I was like, Oh we're gonna make you a distance runner. She looked at me and kind of rolled her eyes. But after she won her first medal ever in cross country, she now wants to run a marathon one day.
This is definitely evidence of a mindset shift. It’s dope what happens when access to exercise programs are given at no cost to Bronx youth.
Yes, it's really cool to see young people get more into running. We also have a Sunday session where the kids can show up. They try their best to show up although some of them have jobs. They're not like when I grew up. I didn't have to have a job but these youngsters have a job, they have school, they have all this stuff to do and they're just so busy. So we were like, okay, we'll start coming to you as well. So now we go to their school once a week and that's how we ended up working with Lehman High School.
Honestly, one of my personal dreams is to guide them towards getting running scholarships to division two schools. If they just run consistently, they could potentially get a scholarship to run in college. It’s not the end goal--they can either do that or they can like, you know, just learn healthy movement and have a healthy mindset.
That's beautiful. I'm curious what age group would you say is the youngest you've worked with?
So we work with high school kids but the youngest groups were at the event with Race the Bronx last year. They were elementary aged school kids and they were so cute. We have all these photos and they just had so much fun. I love that because like I feel like it's really important to show kids that running is fun because I feel like it gets a bad rep these days. If you never run and you get off the couch and run, that's going to suck. But if you start from a young age you can see how fun it is, and the body, you know, builds that muscle memory.
Our bodies definitely keep stockpiles of memories. So it's something that you can get back into at different stages in life.
Exactly. I'm a professional runner and when I take two, three weeks off running and I start running again, it's horrible. I understand why people don't like it, but after you’re doing it for a month or so, it's like oh this is actually an awesome way to be outside and exercise.
What are your thoughts about the work Race The Bronx has done so far?
Race The Bronx has been a great supporter of ours as we have been getting our own programming off the ground in the Bronx, so collaborating with them in the Youth In Movement series was the perfect opportunity to work together on an area we are both extremely passionate about: getting our youth more active.
Beautiful. So when, when did you learn about Race the Bronx? Can you take us through, you know, that moment of making that connection?
Yeah, so Aoibhe was the one who reached out to race the Bronx. But essentially we were just like looking for running groups that were trying to do things in the Bronx to get the community together out running. We wanted to connect with them and help them with whatever their mission was because you know, our missions aligned. We want to bring running into communities to lift people up and show them movement and health and how fun it can be to just be outside.
What did the Youth In Movement event look like last summer?
We got to lead the kids in some warmup drills and strides before a fun morning of racing. Our favorite part of the morning was probably the relay races, where we got to see the kids come together and show us what teamwork is all about. Getting to introduce kids to the sport of running is such a joy and a privilege, so hats off to the crew at Race the Bronx for making this a priority in their community. Hopefully, last summer was the first of many Youth in Movement events to come!
Have you had any of the young people you work with in NYC schools participate in a Race The Bronx race event?
Yes, one of our youth athletes, Krystell, took part in the RTB Soundview 5k this April. She was super excited that there was going to be a race held there.
She said: "Soundview park is where all the family BBQs, birthday parties, and so many other memories are for me so I most definitely had to do this race".
I think this shows that it means that much more for these local young athletes to be able to compete in the areas they grew up in - which would not be possible without RTB creating these racing opportunities. Aside from having a lot of fun (and running a 5K PR), Krystell got to connect with her community through movement and make even more great memories in her local park!
What have you learned about the Bronx in the time that you’ve been in New York City?
One thing Karisa and I are quickly learning since arriving in New York is that this city is full of amazing public parks, and we love that RTB is helping to spread awareness and promote all of the great green spaces that the Bronx has to offer.
Is there way of teaching that mindset that's unique to your company?
We focus on the fact that you get to see yourself improve. We have an open line of communication with them. We're going to have a mental health talk this Sunday since the kids requested it. They're like, man, I really beat myself up mentally. We tell them that there's kind of three sides of sports. You know, the physical, the emotional and the mental. And I feel like coaches in general just don't touch on the other two sides at all. And they're so important.
Like the mental focus you have to have to improve but then also the emotional control you have to have whenever you face disappointment or you get over excited. Like these are also so integral to becoming or to being a good, healthy athlete, you know?
We talk about how, you know, emotions are like waves. You have to learn how to ride them. You can't let them eat you up and spit you out. It's going to be tough. You're going to get dunked under sometimes, but you just have to keep paddling and learn how to ride that wave.
That sounds like a good mantra right there: ride the wave.
Yeah, ride the wave. If you're scared of it, you're just gonna get pushed under every time. So, just ride the wave.
So I have one last question. What did last year’s Youth In Movement event look like for people who didn't attend it and possibly want to have their youngsters attend this year’s?
So we got there and there was a group of all these little kids all together and they were so excited. They all put on their new shirts and we had all these different events and they were just so excited to race. We took them through some drills, we did some strides and then we did the races. Some parents ran with their kids to complete the relays.
So that must have been so awesome for your team to like see the parents there.
Oh yeah, that was awesome. The parents were very kind too and the kids were so proud. You could tell they were so proud of themselves for getting medals and even there's some kids who'd be in the back just in absolute tears crying but they still finished the race and they were really proud of themselves and it was adorable.
Well this all makes me so happy. It was an extreme pleasure to talk to you today and get to know more about you. Thank you.
It's my pleasure speaking with you. Like I said, it's my pleasure to work with everyone in the Bronx.
Race The Bronx’s Youth In Movement Series is completely free, accessible to all youth, and kicks off on July 1st Pelham Bay Park. Parents always want the best opportunities for their children. Most of the time, there are paywalls that keep our children on the other side of the gate at NYC outdoor athletic events. I hope that you share this series of events with the young people in your lives. I know I’ll be telling my community run groups, my neighbors, my friends, and my family members to share this free opportunity with the youth in their lives. Community depends on all of us showing up and taking actionable steps towards the change in health and access we want to see. It depends on all of us making moves for our youth.
Sydney Valerio is a storyteller and writer for Race The Bronx. She is a local Bronx crew runner and marathoner. She believes in the healing power of beets and community.