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“We didn’t want to simply educate and represent only ourselves, we want to do this for people who don’t have a voice.”
There’s a new elite running team, and it’s working toward bridging the diversity gap in the sport.
Angel City Elite is a Los Angeles-based team of five women who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). The group—Sabrina De La Cruz, Andrea Guerra, Valerie Sanchez, Grace Gonzales, and Grace Graham-Zamudio—is determined to not only perform well, but be a voice in the running industry and community.
The team of women, all of whom are marathoners, is sponsored by Brooks Running, and each athlete will receive Brooks team gear and shoes, and have incentive bonuses in their contracts along with a travel budget. De La Cruz, Guerra, and Gonzales are coached by De La Cruz’s husband, Andres; while Sanchez and Graham-Zamudio will continue to work with their current coaches. All will continue to work full-time jobs on top of competing at an elite level.
“I’ve had this idea for years but was scared because I didn’t know how to start it,” De La Cruz, 31, a 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier with a PR of 2:41:16, told Runner’s World. “Right after college, I did see the lack of representation in the sport whenever I would travel to races. About two years I go, I did feel stereotyped when I went to other states. So that’s when I knew, I need to create this team.”
This was especially apparent to De La Cruz at the Olympic Marathon Trials where only handful of runners were BIPOC, and it inspired her to reach out to the other four women, all of whom are marathoners living in the Los Angeles area. Guerra (who has a marathon PR of 2:42:15), Sanchez (2:42:38), and Gonzales (2:41:52) also qualified for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials.
Each runner brings a different story to the team. Sanchez, 30, is Mexican-American and a friend of De La Cruz’s from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). Gonzales, 31, is part Chicana and part indigenous Mexican, who mentors the team and teaches them about her culture. Guerra, 30, moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was six years old. Graham-Zamudio, 27, is the youngest in the group and already a leader.
In the spring and summer of 2020, the women created a plan for their team, including mission statements and a clear vision. They didn’t want to just simply exist as a team that only runs and competes. They also wanted to be proactive in bridging the diversity gap in the sport.
“We didn’t want to simply educate and represent only ourselves, we want to do this for people who don’t have a voice,” De La Cruz said. “That’s really huge for us. Not only empowering each other, but empowering others by doing the work on our end to make running more inclusive.”
This part of their mission, in addition to the talent of each team member, caught Brooks’s attention. Julie Culley, a 2012 Olympian who started as the sports marketing manager for Brooks last August, said this was one of the first projects she worked on with Brooks.
“What made this so significant was these were five women who were already connected by location, they already do some training together, but beyond trying to get the most out of themselves was their unification on trying to change the landscape of the sport,” Culley told Runner’s World. “The callout that’s happened in the last year to focus on elevating voices and inviting more people in. They want to get the most out of themselves, but they want to do more than that. You just can’t not fall in love with that.”
The logistics starting a team—becoming an LLC, setting up a bank account, receiving nonprofit status—has taken several months. Brooks is paying for incorporation fees, logo creation, web hosting (you can find the team website here), and other requirements for creating and supporting the team.
When asked about team goals, De La Cruz’s passion for community comes flying out and running almost takes a backseat. She shares idea after idea of actions she wants to take, such as using social media channels and a podcast to amplify voices and tell others’ stories. Additionally, she wants to connect with local run clubs, shops, and crews like Blacklist LA, creating a L.A.-based group run for all races, genders, and ages, and even going to local high schools, when the pandemic ends, to help kids apply for college and federal student aid (FAFSA).
“When I was growing up, I was lucky to have my mom,” De La Cruz said. “She was the first one out of her whole family to attend college. She helped me, but I also had friends who had no idea how to apply for school or FAFSA. My mom helped all of the kids in my high school because many parents didn’t know how to apply for college. This is the education and resource we want to bring to and be in the community.”
The team’s race schedule is still up in the air because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the women are looking forward to doing races ranging in distances from the 10K to the marathon all over the country to share their message and mission.
“I actually started to cry last week,” De La Cruz said. “I feel so supported and happy Brooks is helping us. It’s something we needed. Some of us with our backgrounds, we don’t have much money. It’s nice to have this help, and we want to keep building on this and help the next generation. I don’t want this team to be here for three years. It’s here for years to come we can help generation after generation.”
The move comes as a few teams have popped up in recent months. Back in August, the On Athletics Club debuted in Boulder, Colorado, and just this week, a Puma group was announced in North Carolina.
For now, there’s a lot of work still to be done, and Angel City Elite has the boundless vision and potential to make a vast change in the sport and the Los Angeles community for years to come.(03/15/2021) Views: 577 ⚡AMP