APRIL 9, 2020 - ATLANTA -- "If you can't find a group for you, make your own."
These words, spoken by ultrarunner and plus-sized running advocate Mirna Valeria at Women's Trailfest in Clayton, Georgia, last June, stuck with Kim Rodriguez and inspired her to launch Latinas Running just a month later.
"I went home and did research, but I couldn't find a local running group solely for Latinas," said Rodriguez, whose family is originally from Guatemala. "I felt there was a need, so I just started working."
She picked a name, made a logo, formed social media handles and started posting.
The immediate feedback and support astonished her. "I was getting messages from women all over the country," said Rodriguez. "They all wanted to wear the logo just to represent their culture."
Rodriguez set out with a mission to help women who have never run before, while promoting diversity and body positivity. She uses Latinas Running as a forum to document her own journey and encourages the community to take part in numerous fitness challenges.
"We're primarily an online-based community at the moment, encouraging each other through social media channels," said Rodriguez. "Strangers have always been my biggest supporters. Social media has been very positive for me and these strangers have become my friends."
Rodriguez's running journey started back in 2012, when her first race was a 10K with sorority sisters at Virginia Commonwealth University. "I had no idea what I was doing, but everyone at VCU was into it," she said. "It was brutal but afterwards I was hooked."
When she was diagnosed a year later with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder, running became part of her healing process. "It was a point in my life when I hit rock bottom," Rodriguez said. Frustrated with her diagnosis, she turned to running as her outlet.
"People thought I was crazy for running," she said. "No one really supported me and I kept being told 'You don't run. You're not a runner.'" But Rodriguez didn't let that stop her. She found a training program online and prepared for the Marine Corps Historic Half, her first 13.1-miler.
Right after signing up for the race, she was accepted into Life University, one of the country's leading chiropractic schools. "Between discovering my love for chiropractic and pursuing my passion for running, I ended up not having to get surgery [for my condition]," she said.
Now a member of Atlanta Track Club, Rodriguez had recruited a group of about 30 members of Latinas Running to participate in the Northside Hospital Atlanta Women's 5K on April 11.
She was looking forward to the race as the first time the group would have more than two runners at the same event, but because of COVID-19 the Club has decided to make the 5K a virtual one. Rodriguez said she will be urging all those women to still participate in the race.
The Club has encouraged women to run or walk 5K on their own or with an immediate family member between 5 a.m., Saturday April 11 and 5 p.m. Sunday, April 12.
The next event on Rodriguez's calendar? She hopes to be back at Women's Trailfest in June, this time with a group of four Latinas Running women. "It's crazy because I went from sitting in the audience to now being invited to speak on a panel," Rodriguez said. Mirna Valerio, now a friend and mentor, will be right next to her.
To learn more about Latinas Running, visit their Facebook page or follow them on Instagram @latinasrunning.