On my way to one of my biggest races last year, I had a memorable conversation with a stranger. After exchanging a few words we soon shared why each of us was traveling, and of course, I shared that I was traveling for a race. I told him I was hoping to podium in which case he immediately was taken aback and said,”that’s interesting because you don’t look like a runner.”
Unfortunately, I knew what he was referring to but didn’t really want to talk about it. More so because I had gone down the vicious road, like many runners, to try and achieve that runner look. But consequently, these words hit me deeper than just my look, because at that moment a fellow human didn’t perceive me as a “true runner.”
I must admit I began to get a little fiery. Should I tell him everything that made me a runner despite not “looking like one”? The early mornings, the late night doubles, lifestyle choices, the years of sacrifices amongst family and friends, maybe even the races I won and lost? But, even with all these thoughts flashing through my head my gut held me back and told me this wasn’t the way to respond to this question. With one deep breath, the answer became clear, “Well, that’s okay, but you look like a runner to me.”
The conversation that followed was one I will never forget. We talked about the sport and the history of it, the different legends it's produced and what they have looked like. We talked about different types of running and the people it brings together. Overall its safe to safe we both left the conversation with a new found respect for each other and the world of running.
This conversation is and was significant to me for some many reasons. It reminded me that in a time where we are trying to break stereotypes about certain groups of people, starting and having conversations is one of the most powerful things we can do at an individual level. Its easy to feel helpless and ask “what can I do by myself?” but more times than not educating each other compassionately and being open to listening is what we must do to break these stereotypes and what will continue to push our movements forward.