It goes without saying that longtime Club Northwest athlete Joseph “Joegezi” Gray is one of the most accomplished mountain runners to date. His daunting list of professional accomplishments includes a number of both national and world championship titles. 6-time USA Mountain Running National Champion, Gray also found success on the roads and cross country courses, qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the marathon twice and dominating USATF Club Cross Country races in the Pacific Northwest for years. He attributes his dedication to his sport and competition to the example set by his father shooting hoops in their backyard. Gray brings to running the level of commitment his father brought to basketball, “exerting every ounce of energy ‘til the end.” Gray’s hard work has paid off in a way that has shaped the history of mountain running. In 2009, Joseph Gray became the first Black American to win USA National Mountain Running Championships and make the USA National Mountain Running Team.
Fast forward 10 years, Gray is now applying his pivotal experiences in his sport and the work ethic passed down from his father to a new project aimed at increasing racial diversity in distance running. In his most recent post on Instagram, Gray shared that plans are in motion to surprise the first athlete with products from sponsors as a part of his Inspire Diversity project. He sees creating opportunity for minority athletes as a duty. “If you’ve been blessed with the opportunity to pursue your passion and you can’t/don’t use you blessing to help others pursue their passions,” writes Gray, “then you are LOST.”
Joseph Gray on Inspire Diversity…
In terms of my project to Inspire Diversity, it all started to come together after years of witnessing some shortcomings regarding racial diversity within my sport. Competing as a road, mountain or track athlete within a sport predominantly white opened my mind, causing me to ask questions as to 'why' was I one of the only Black American distance runners. After winning my first USA mountain running National title I found out I had become the first Black American to win the USA National mountain running championships as well as the first to make the USA National team for the World Mountain running Champs! Shortly after I received many messages from random folks I had never met. They were Black and they were quick to let me know that I was inspiring them to try mountain running and/or distance running in general. Getting results helps a lot to inspire others, but I came to the conclusion that results weren't enough. There was a bigger issue playing in the background.
Typically athletes are inspired by those they have something in common with. Many times something they share outside of sport. There were 0 Black American trail runners when I came to the sport. Today there are a few. If we look at media and running related journals and blogs you see a huge disparity concerning inclusion of Black culture within articles and Black athletes used for ads. How can I or other Black athletes inspire the next generation of Black trail runners if we aren't seen? Being that the media controls the what's "trending" in the sport, it's safe to say less Black athletes receive assistance from a grass roots level to help them further develop into athletes following collegiate careers. Part of my project is bringing this issue to the forefront and using a few of my sponsors to provide running product support to a few young up and coming Black American athletes who compete in distance events! Juice Performer, Hoka One One, AMP Human Performance and Astavita have all stepped up to support this venture and I couldn't be more thankful for it!
To learn more about Joseph Gray and the Inspire Diversity Project, follow him on Instagram and check out his blog.
Instagram Profile: @joegeezi