Running Toward a More Equitable Future
With its Stolen Starts initiative, New Balance aims to empower more women, grow the sport, and make up for lost time
At the 1928 Olympic games in Amsterdam, false reports that five competitors had collapsed during the women’s 800-meter event (a single runner fell at the finish) prompted a decision that gravely affected the future of women’s running participation.
“It was so off-putting to people to see women exerting themselves and being powerful and strong that the officials promptly canceled all the women’s running events for decades,” says Samia Akbar, a former professional runner and now Global Running Energy Lead for New Balance. The ban lasted more than 30 years. Its effects, says Akbar, are still felt today—and they aren’t limited to the world of elite competitive running.
That’s where Stolen Starts, a global women’s ambassador program from New Balance, comes in. “These start lines were stolen from women. So with this program we’ve selected partners who can tell different stories and are making progress in our sport,” says Akbar. While the brand has a roster of elite athletes, it’s aiming to do something much different here. “These are women who are leaders in their local running community and who also have a sense of purpose or a cause they want to champion.” Lizeth Aparicio, a Los Angeles–based runner, organizer, and activist, is one such woman.
“I have a body that works. Through the vehicle of running, I can always get back up.”
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Aparicio grew up with more responsibility than most, juggling her own academics, jobs, and social life while helping her parents translate documents and navigate life in a country they weren’t born into. By the time she was a junior at UC Berkeley—working full-time, living far from campus to save money—years of “doing it all” had worn her down. “I’m the helper, I’m the doer, I’m the one to go to. I was so afraid to tell them I wasn’t OK.”
When her mom called one day, Aparicio started hyperventilating and told her she couldn’t do it anymore. Without hesitation her dad told her to defer the semester and immediately drove from Southern California to pick her up and bring her home. I’ve been there, Lizeth, and I know that you need your space, her dad told her. You have no obligation here. You’re not paying for anything. You’re not getting a job. He gave her permission to just be.
After a month at home, Aparicio had an urge to lace up her running shoes and head outside. As she ran, something shifted—she felt as if she couldn’t stop. She ran for 15 miles straight. The feeling that followed was an overwhelming sense of relief. “I have a body that works. Through the vehicle of running, I can always get back up,” she remembers thinking. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m OK.’” From then on, I’ve never stopped running.” Because of that depressive episode—and the positive outlet she found through running—she’s become the person she is today: optimistic, happy. And she’s using running as a tool for positive change in her community, too.
In June 2021, Aparicio organized and completed her second annual Run for Justice, where she ran 30 miles (on her 30th birthday) to raise money (over $5,500) for the ACLU and to speak up for her Black friends and neighbors. “I’m a woman of color, but I still have privilege,” she says. “Black people in America have it so much harder than my parents who immigrated, who aren’t even native-born Americans, and that’s just not fair. The Run for Justice is a perfect example of the power of running and what running can do.”
Running is something Aparicio is good at, and it’s her tool to effect change—both personally, for her mental health, and in her community. Which is why she was an obvious fit for the Stolen Starts initiative, says Akbar, who hopes amplifying voices like Aparicio’s might inspire a diverse next generation of runners and begin to reverse the damage caused by the sport’s inequitable past. But it’s more than that, too. Akbar: “We want to share all the things that women can be and how women can show up in the world.”
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