With health care a major topic among Hispanics in America, Maria Solis Belizaire is on a 50-state quest to change the narrative and bridge the gap between fitness and a community of some more than 58 million people.
Solis Belizaire is the founder of and guiding force behind Latinos Run, whose mission is to bring together those in the Latino community through running and exercise. Her single goal: To combat health-related issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity among the more than 55 million Latinos living in the United States, 70 percent of whom are identified as obese or overweight.
Founded in New York City in 2016, Latinos Run currently hosts local free group runs and events for runners of all levels — walkers, elite athletes and kids. And even though its roots are in New York City, Latinos Run reaches out to almost all corners of the country by hosting pop-up events in, among other locations, California, South Florida, Washington, DC and Philadelphia.
The Origin of Latinos Run
As a child, Solis Belizaire was actively involved in athletics, but as she entered her teens life took a turn for the worse when her mother became incarcerated. As a way to deal with adversity, Maria turned to running and became a member of her high school track team. Years later, her twin sister invited her to take part in a local fun run, which became her first organized race and the start of a love affair with the sport.
Soon after she would be introduced to an ultra-marathoner who encouraged her to join the local New York Road Runners club with a goal of completing a New York City Marathon, which she accomplished in 2015 (followed by three more NYC Marathons in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and the Chicago Marathon in 2018). Running became a life changing experience for her.
After participating in countless races across the United States, including her five marathons with family and friends, Solis Belizaire began to think about the impact health had not only on herself, but others in her community. Having lost her mother and friends from cancer and other heath issues, including obesity and heart disease, she knew she had to do more.
In 2016, unable to find a group that catered specifically to Latinos, she decided to take action and form Latinos Run in honor of her late mother, Miriam Calderon Solis.
“What’s unique about our movement is that we are connecting with a community on a large scale,” Solis Belizaire says. “From our inception, our runners from Latin America have been able to connect with our runners from the States.”
Running Across America
She takes her role in that connection seriously — so seriously, in fact, that she has embarked on a campaign called Project Run 50, where she is running in each state across America to meet more Latinos and to empower the community to lace up and get active.
She tells Running Insight that as of April 1 she has run in 31 states and she is actively seeking local retailers this year to facilitate running in the remaining 19 while filming the full Project Run 50 effort.
The outreach through running – yes, you can think of Forrest Gump and his epic journey across America – is designed to spread the word about running and exercise to a community often overlooked by the mainstream industry. She also wants to expand the horizons of people who often think – and run – only locally.
“The one thing I have noticed is that a lot of runners stick to their local areas,” Solis Belizaire observes. “There is so much to see out there. This county is so beautiful, but many people don’t even know where many states are for fear traveling too far. I am going to give people a look at this beautiful country and the epic places I have been to.”
Currently servicing around 20,000 runners worldwide, Latinos Run certainly is spreading the gospel of running. And there is much more to come.
The group will be traveling together to run the Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon and the Lola Challenge in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In addition, from Sept 15 through October 15 Latinos Run will be hosting pop-up runs across the country – New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and South Florida are currently on the schedule – to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
The Retail Connection
The running community as a whole is certainly welcome to join in the fun, she stresses, and Latinos Run has already hosted countless runs out of retail stores.
“These runs help generate business for the retailer and also introduce people in the community to running and to retailers that service the running community,” Solis Belizaire explains. “Many times we are bringing a new demographic to these retailers as well.
“I would very much like to invite running retailers to get to know our organization as well as join us for one of our future events,” she adds. “It doesn’t matter if you are a walker or an elite runner, we cater to everyone by making sure our runs are fun and exciting. We know how fast the Latino population is growing, and we also know there is power in numbers. We can’t just sit back and hope for change, we have to create it.”