A 62-mile community relay hosted by Bronx Sole, a local running and walking group, is allowing residents to showcase their neighborhood pride and assist with maintaining a healthy lifestyle this weekend.
Bronx Sole, created in 2016, is a South Bronx-based running and walking crew committed to improving the health of residents. The organization helps create a space where community, health and Bronx history intertwine.
For co-founders Pedro Rivera and Justin Mashia — a former competitive runner — jogging and traveling around New York City became normal the longer they lived here. But as both continually traveled back to the Bronx late at night from other exercise groups around Manhattan and Brooklyn, one thing became noticeable to Mashia — there were no running clubs in the borough they lived in.
“Why is there never anything in the Bronx?” Mashia said. “Why do we always have to go to all these other boroughs to do these things?”
Soon, Mashia and Rivera took action — the pair began work on creating Bronx Sole.
In the following weeks, Mashia soon learned that the Bronx was ranked the unhealthiest county in New York state in 2016. The Bronx remains the unhealthiest in 2022, ranked last out of the 62 counties in the state, according to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Mashia, who is from Portland, Oregon, developed a passion for Bronx history after moving to the area. Rivera, who grew up in Highbridge, shared stories and history as the two toured the borough.
“I feel like the image of the Bronx is always negative and people think Bronxities don’t care about our borough,” Mashia said. “We care about the community, we care about our health, it’s just that we need access to things like that, and that’s what we lack.”
Mashia’s fascination with both the borough and running culminated in Bronx Sole. He envisioned participants would reach a specific destination and learn the area’s significance, so the organization incorporated history lessons into its process.
— BronxSole (@BronxSole) October 12, 2022
Mashia, 39, said the pair spent time canvasing the areas from the South Bronx to Westchester Square with flyers of their inaugural event in 2016. The first meetup had 10 people, but he said the interest quickly picked up — at their peak before the COVID-19 pandemic, he said 55 people participated in the activities. The organization, despite the pandemic, continues to have active participation every Tuesday and Saturday. He noted there are always new and familiar faces coming to the events.
Since beginning Bronx Sole in 2016, Mashia has attempted to bring an organization dedicated to exercise and healthy living, with accessibility as a top priority.
“Everyone can’t run,” he said. “The whole point is for everyone in the family to be able to participate. So if you have the elders, you have your grandparents, you have the parents, and they have the kids — there should be a space for everyone.”
Mashia and Rivera created a program with three groups. From strictly running to solely walking the distance to somewhere in between, Mashia said Bronx Sole allows all residents to participate.
For years, Mashia contemplated hosting a community relay.
“You can’t plan what you’ve never done,” he said. “It’s nerve-wracking. I’ve been nervous ever since I put up the flyers to tell people about it. My biggest worry was that no one would sign up. But then that wasn’t true because we’ve had over 30 people sign up.”
As Mashia plans the route for the Saturday, Nov. 19 event, he said the 62 miles represent the ranking of the Bronx in terms of healthiest counties and is a way to showcase the drive of residents to exercise.
Participants can walk a block, several blocks or a couple of miles, passing the baton to the next person. Each participant will pick their designated areas to cover, and the route will be adjusted to connect the neighborhoods in the route.
Mashia said people can run, walk, bike, roller skate and skateboard, opening the doors for people to become active in any fashion.
“It’s basically the community passing the baton through our community showing that we care about the Bronx, we care about our health,” he said. “We’re here for the people.”
The 62-mile community relay will take place on Nov. 19 beginning at 9 a.m. If you are interested in participating or want to volunteer, please register here.
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