How running has changed for the Black community

Woman standing with hands on hips looking out at river with new york city scape across the water

Wellness coach and Soho House Chicago member Kayla Jeter discusses the sport’s evolution from fear to freedom

By Kayla Jeter    Friday 28 May, 2021

As the daughter of a former professional football player, I grew up surrounded by sports. That exposure influenced my decision to pursue a master's in kinesiology, sport psychology, and motor behaviour, and served as the foundation of my successful volleyball career.

It wasn’t until the loss of my father to a sudden heart attack and the slow decline of my mother to cancer, however, that I embraced my true calling: becoming a health advocate and coach. I work with clients to mobilise their internal strengths, shift their mindsets, and develop life tools to reach optimal wellbeing. To me, fitness is a celebration for the ways our bodies support us.
This past year, running became a source of unified experience and empowerment for the Black community. For so long, it’s been an activity historically rooted in fear; it’s since evolved from a place of punishment, as it’s typically used in sports, to a space of freedom and curiosity. Now, every time I hit the pavement, it’s an opportunity to become more present in my body and mind.

Woman running with river and new york city scape in the background

'Every time I hit the pavement, it’s an opportunity to become more present in my body and mind'

But what comes after a run is just as important – and it’s crucial that accessible, resourceful, and safe spaces are created for Black people not only to rest, but to be well. We need to shift the narrative of the whiteness of wellbeing as privilege to a right that everyone deserves. Rest can only be achieved in places that invite your nervous system to fully transition from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’. And if this past year has shown us anything, it’s the constant ‘fight or flight’ state that Black people live in; being activated at high cortisol levels at all times can do serious damage to the body.  
Athletes and runners at all levels have the opportunity to influence social change through their commitment to achieving their highest potential. Every day, I am blessed to wake up. As soon as my feet touch the floor, I begin the race against the person I was yesterday, knowing the goal is not perfection, but instead being 1% better than I was the day before. Honouring who I was, who I am, and who I will be – as well as my parents’ legacy.

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