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Photograph by Brent Holmes

Tanesha Williams and Sandra Todd of Black Girls Run aim to get women on their feet

Black Girls Run is a national organization founded in 2009 to combat the obesity epidemic in the African-American community, along with the chronic diseases that accompany sedentary lifestyles. We sat down with Tanesha Williams (left) and Sandra Todd, ambassadors for the Las Vegas chapter of BGR.

How did you start running?

TW: I actually started running about nine years ago after I had my second daughter. I just knew I had to lose weight. There was a gym at my apartment complex, and I just got on the treadmill. I ran my first mile, and I was so excited. After that, my goal was just to run farther and farther and farther.

ST: I started, oh, I guess about 10 years ago. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And after that was all done, I wanted to lead a healthy lifestyle, start eating right, so I just embraced running through a coworker. She said, hey, let’s train for a half-marathon. After that, I just really embraced it. Then I found Black Girls Run. It was started by another group of ladies who have moved on. So I became a part of Black Girls Run, and then Tanesha and I became ambassadors, what, three years ago?

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What’s the mission of BGR?

ST: Basically to promote a healthy lifestyle, for all women, but primarily for women of color because of the rate of diabetes and high blood pressure in African-American women. And I just think it’s important because of what we’re eating in this day and age, and the sedentary lifestyles we lead.

Do you think there’s a representation issue in the media with who is seen as a runner or a hiker?

ST: I don’t necessarily agree, because when I watch the Olympics, I see a lot of people of color on those tracks. And there’s a professional black marathoners page — there are tons of people there. So I don’t know if I agree that they’re not represented. Now, maybe some of the outdoors sports, yeah.

TW: There are definitely a lot of runners. When I started, I didn’t know that there was a Black Girls Run Las Vegas. As soon as I saw someone post about it, I went and joined. So it’s about the information — if people know about it, they’ll try to join the group.

What does a group like BGR does for the black community in Las Vegas?

ST: I think it promotes sisterhood. Sometimes there’s a stigma — we don’t stick together. But when you’re out there just walking and running, everybody’s sweating, everybody looks jacked up, it’s just about finishing the task at hand. We said we were going to run or walk two miles, c’mon let’s get it done. It’s about supporting that sisterhood.

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TW: I think we’re motivators. Honestly, if I post to my personal social media, I get friends, family in different states just saying, “You motivated me to go walk today.” “I ran my first 5k.” “I want to train for this.” Or “I went to the gym today.” When I run with Sandra, she’s motivating me, because I believe she’s a stronger runner than me.

ST: We represent the gamut. So I’m older, I’m in my 50s, and a lot of women think, Oh, this is all a group of young girls. No, it’s not.

To the black woman thinking about joining BGR but hesitating, what is your message?

ST: You just have to take baby steps. It’s kind of like eating an elephant — don’t think about the whole thing, just take one little bite at a time. And before you know it, you have walked a mile. You’ve walked two miles. You’ve run 500 yards. It just takes the initiative. And there’s lots of support. That’s the thing. There’re a million other people like her thinking those same thoughts, but there’s so much support in our group. There really is.

TW: Go buy you some shoes, go buy you a nice workout outfit, whatever’s going to motivate you. Go buy you a dress that’s maybe a size smaller, whatever’s going to get you out there. And have fun — don’t make it like a chore! It’s not beating yourself up. It’s about enjoying what you’re doing.

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Edited for length and clarity.