By Stephanie Imig
“I started running during the pandemic to get out of the house.”
“Running was my lifeline during COVID.”
“I run to feel free.”
Like so many, Kavi Chokshi (he/him) found running in 2020. As he tells it, “I joined my roommate and a few friends on some short 3-6 mile runs, during a time when I felt pretty depressed, and it was a way to get out of the house and feel better.” He was quickly enticed by the beauty of the trails surrounding Bend, OR, but when he began thinking about trying a trail race, the expense of racing became an obstacle. Then he learned about the Trail Mix Fund, a non-profit started by Go Beyond Racing, which offers race fee waivers for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ runners, and anyone for whom race fees pose a financial hardship.
“When I applied for the Trail Mix Fund, I felt slightly uncomfortable, because even though I'm BIPOC, and at the time I was unemployed, I'm still aware of the considerable privilege I hold and I didn't want to take the spot away from someone who I felt would be more deserving or could use it more.”
Even though he seemed to be a perfect fit for a fee waiver from the Trail Mix Fund, Kavi still felt an initial reluctance. He explains, “When I applied for the Trail Mix Fund, I felt slightly uncomfortable, because even though I'm BIPOC, and at the time I was unemployed, I'm still aware of the considerable privilege I hold and I didn't want to take the spot away from someone who I felt would be more deserving or could use it more.” Luckily, Kavi overcame his initial hesitancy and applied, opening a door to a much greater involvement in the trail running community. Kavi shares, “The Trail Mix Fund helped make it possible for me to participate in the Bend Trail Series last year. At the time, I had just started getting into running and I was unemployed and would not otherwise have justified the expense to participate. The Trail Mix Fund and Bend Trail Series deepend my trail running journey.”
Trail Mix Fund recipient Alex M. (she/her) echoes a similar sentiment that many runners feel when they learn about the Trail Mix Fund–that someone else deserves this more or needs this more. She explains, “I actually almost did not apply for the trail mix fund because, with how I read it, I thought the fund was solely for those underrepresented groups. I’m a white, straight, married lady with a toddler and I thought I wouldn’t qualify for the fund. But I really wanted to run the Smith Rock 50k, and at the time we were a single income family, so I thought I would apply anyway. There was no way we could have afforded the race otherwise.”
Like Kavi, Alex was at first hesitant, but decided to apply. And as it did for Kavi, the Trail Mix Fund opened doors. Alex was able to run the Smith Rock 50K, and exemplifies how one race can be a turning point: “On the surface, the trail mix fund paid my way to run my 50k. But also, because I finished my race, I found a new sense of confidence in my running abilities, and I owe that in part to the fund as well.” As so many of us know, running is about so much more than running.
The Trail Mix Fund, whose genesis lies in the collision of the pandemic and racial and social justice movements, is a manifestation of the complicated web of hardship and hope. On the one hand, the fund was a response to the financial barriers to racing, which were exacerbated by the pandemic. But the Trail Mix Fund is also a response to movements for racial justice that held the national spotlight throughout the summer of 2020. Ultimately, the Trail Mix Fund’s multi-pronged mission comes down to this: “This Fund pays the race registration fee for runners who cannot afford it or aren’t sure they belong in the sport” (“Trail Mix Fund”).
In order for the Trail Mix fund to realize its mission, more awareness about the fund is needed, and more runners need to apply for the fee waivers.
Both Kavi and Alex, each with different stories, backgrounds, experiences and identities, represent people whom the Trail Mix Fund strives to help, and in doing so, build a more inclusive trail running community–one where anyone who is not sure if they belong, or might not be able to afford it, can learn that they, too, absolutely belong. If you are reading this, and this sounds like you, the Trail Mix Fund is for you.
The Trail Mix Fund is just one piece in a much larger puzzle, but it shows how we can each find our small piece to contribute. Each piece matters.When each piece locks into place, the picture is not of a specific runner or a specific event, but of feelings–feeling of inclusion, belonging, and ultimately, freedom. As James Mills, author of The Adventure Gap purports, “I believe we experience genuine freedom when we make a conscious choice to set aside the comforts of warmth, family, and financial security just to climb to a high place and enjoy the view of a distant horizon. Though we live in a nation whose founding principle is freedom, far too many of us deprive ourselves of the opportunity to get beyond our daily urban routine to gaze upon the grandeur of the natural world. And too many of us depriving ourselves of nature are people of color.”
Going for a trail run, and especially racing, takes a lot more than “just a pair of shoes.” It takes knowledge, gear, financial resources, and perhaps most importantly, trust and self-belief to head down that path and to clear the way for others. Each of us has a place on the path and an action we can take, our own individual piece of the puzzle. Together, we can create a trail running community where belonging is a value, an action, and a reality.
What does your piece of the puzzle look like? If you are a race director, consider joining the Trail Mix Fund. If you are someone with the financial means, consider tacking on $5 to your next race registration to expand opportunities for others. If you are BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ or cannot afford a race fee, take the leap and apply!
Mills, James. The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. Mountaineers Books, 2014.