Four years ago, Walesca Marmolejos hated anything to do with exercise. Then her father suffered a massive heart attack and she began a new job as a bereavement counselor. She said she founded the New York chapter of the women’s running group Latinas in Motion after running became her way to process the stresses in life.
“A lot of our group runs almost turn into therapy sessions,” Marmolejos said. “ We really talk about our jobs, our families, our friends. You know, any issues we’re having.”
Latinas in Motion is a national running group dedicated to encouraging Latina women to exercise. Founded in 2012 in Philadelphia, the group exemplifies the changing face of running in the U.S: It’s becoming more female-dominated, diverse and social. On Nov. 1, Marmolejos completed her first New York City Marathon, running alongside more than two dozen other women from her group.
Scott Bush, of Running USA, a nonprofit that analyzes and advocates for the running industry, said the sport is in the midst of a boom.
“A lot of races have really opened it up to the masses,” said Bush. “Bringing in more Latinos, bringing in more African Americans, bringing in more people from diverse backgrounds, I feel that that’s definitely the next wave that’s coming.”
Elaine Johnson, the founder of Latinas in Motion, said she began the group to bring attention to the health challenges that Latinas face, but the group is open to all women.
“There aren’t many organizations that do what we do exclusively for Latinas,” said Johnson. “So yes, we encourage all women to join us, but the platform had to be created.”
Cultural barriers like gender roles have historically played a role in lower rates of sports participation for Latina women, but this is changing, said David Marquez, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Marquez said that hypertension, high cholesterol, depression and stress are heath issues that disproportionately affect the Latino community.
“One of things that could help with running is that the social bonds and social networks – which tend to be stronger in woman than in men – that emotional support, especially in Latino women, that could really be something that helps to motivate and to empower Latino women to run,” Marquez said.
Noelia Rosado, a member of Marmolejos’ group, said she started running in 2013. After her sister was killed in a hit-and-run accident later that year, she began running longer distances. The New York City Marathon will be her first marathon.
“I found running to be my therapy, my solace. It keeps me sane, so that’s when I started running longer distances, and this marathon I’m dedicating to her,” said Rosado.
Jazmine Espina, who has run four marathons, finished her first New York City Marathon with Latinas in Motion. She said she resumed running last year after taking a hiatus during two high-risk pregnancies. She discovered the women’s group by chance.
“I actually woke up one morning next to my husband and said I want to go to Central Park and run, and he thought I was crazy cause it was five in the morning,” said Espina. “But he drove me to Central Park with my two kids.”
That morning Espina met a group of women from Latinas in Motion and decided to join.
“I find that the more that we talk to each other while we’re running, the easier the run is,” she said.