Brigid Turner is an ultramarathoner, actress, and teacher living in NYC. She is the first black woman to conquer the Empire State Trail.
One of the many beautiful things about running is that it can take you to places you may have never imagined. That was the case for Brigid Turner, a life-long New Yorker, school teacher, and now conqueror of the Empire State Trail. A mere six years into her running journey, Turner became the first black woman ever to traverse the 591 miles from Buffalo, NY, to Battery Park in Manhattan.
To understand the task, you must first understand the person who took it on. Turner craves challenges, loves risk, and has a passion for helping others. This translates into her multi-faceted career as an entrepreneur, filmmaker, and teacher. And when she’s not doing one of those things, she’s more than likely on a trail somewhere nearby.
As a Black woman, Turner embraces her role of using challenges to positively impact and inspire the next generation. Turner has completed conquests in every borough and regularly participates in calendar streaks that require her to run anywhere from one to thirty one mile per day. With those types of missions, there's not room for anything else. “I would wake up, go to work, go to run, go to bed, and repeat. There's no hanging out in between.”
The Empire State Trail
“I was running on a long trail near the Bronx when I saw a cyclist carrying an odd amount of luggage. I asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘Oh, I'm gonna ride as far as I can go to Buffalo.’ I immediately said back, ‘I could run then,’ and he goes, ‘No you need a bike.’ I was like, ‘I don't own a bike, so I'll use my legs.”
The cyclist laughed off the encounter blissfully unaware that Turner had decided right then and there that she would run the Empire State Trail.
Before taking off, Turner teamed up with two organizations near and dear to her heart, The Running Edge Youth in Brooklyn, and Shoes4Africa in Kenya, to raise money for. Fundraising provided a deeper purpose and was a source of motivation for Turner when time's got tough.
The journey north was costly, and she learned quickly that it had to be tackled only during daylight, which added five unaccounted for days to the equation. "It's pitch black and dangerous at night. My friend Matt, who was trailing me on his bike, and I once waited five hours for an Uber to come pick us up."
Some days, local runners would put her up in their homes, others Turner stayed in hotels along the course. While the journey was expensive, with daily Ubers running about $170, she kept her mission (her dedication to her charities) fresh in her mind. Some days she cried, and her sobs were all she would hear for hours. The type of material that convinces most to throw in the towel. For Turner, it was simply part of the experience.
The resilience was in her DNA, passed on from her mother. According to Turner, “I attribute a lot of my strength to what my mom has shown me over the years. That, and knowing that no one is going to give me anything. I have to set goals and work hard.”
“Not once did I say ‘I can't do this. I just put my clothes and kept moving. I'm grateful and I thank God for my abilities and my mind.”
On her final day, she reached out to her friend Wei Law, for help through the last 26 rainy miles. “It was very emotional,” she explains with a crackle in her voice, clearly reliving the experience. In the end, she was able to raise $2,000 for her charities.
While she may have completed the Empire State Trail, Turner knows her work isn’t done. She’d like to repeat it in the future, but this time as a relay with the help of other runners of color. Even if the course isn’t packed with Black women, she hopes that many are still inspired by her courage.
"Be proud of who you are, where you come from and aspire to be great! Never let anyone tell you who you are and what you can't do. Love yourself First!"