This past June 2022, Boogie Down Bronx Runners celebrated their five year anniversary as an official running crew in the Bronx. Since its inception, BDBR's cheer sections at the New York City marathon and other races in the city have become iconic environments of positivity. But most impactfully, the crew has represented a mission to increase the overall health of the Bronx and to raise awareness about their current status as the unhealthiest county in New York state.
One of Boogie Down's key achievements has been creating a safe space for female runners. And while this may not have explicitly been the original goal, the crew has organically become one of the best examples of inclusivity across the city.
Their community runs became a safe haven where women could feel comfortable running in a place where the crime rate is higher than average. They were also given the comfort of running as a group well after the sun had gone down, allowing a balance to take care of their families during daylight hours, while getting some miles in after sun-down. To support this cohesive safety, male Boogie Down runners have made themselves available as early as 4am to bike or run alongside female runners when they can't make it to the community runs.
We sat down with four of the women of Boogie Down to chat about what this safe space means to them and to the broader running community:
How do you think Boogie Down has created a safe space for female runners?
Joan Vargas: Women in the sport of running were forgotten for a very long time. Boogie Down has given us an open space to have real conversations with women who come from where we come from and understand the culture and urban dynamic. It has also provided a support system where not only are the women cheering each other on, but the men are out there creating cheer sections at the women only races like the Mini 10K and SHAPE Half Marathon, so it gives us a sense of equality.
Boogie Down knows that the women can keep up with the men if need be and it has given us the opportunity to do so by encouraging a fun sense of competitiveness. It has created a platform for women to be runners as well as mothers and provides options to support them as well. Most importantly, Boogie Down is an extended family and sisterhood for a lot of women that may not have had that growing up.
Gina Colamarino: Interestingly, we actually have more female members in Boogie Down at 65% which I think is amazing! Boogie Down is different for women like me. I was so nervous the first time I ran with them but everyone was so welcoming and as a woman, the founders always make sure my voice is heard.
Yvonne Zapata: A lot of times women are focused on how fast or how fit they are when they are trying to run, but with Boogie Down you don’t get that. You just get so much love and passion. I’ve had very different experiences with other crews and I always felt like both the men and women of Boogie Down had my back. Lenny (the founder) has even reached out to me to say I always want you to feel like this is your safe space, this is your home.
Darresa Rodriguez: The women of Boogie Down have created a safe space where they have found their own sub-community that extends past running. The women are there for each other even when it has nothing to do with running. I remember some of the women reaching out when they heard I was sick and offering to do a Target run for me. It has also created a space where women are comfortable finding health and feeling beautiful in that health and in all the sizes and shapes that they come in.
How do you think you've changed as a runner since joining the crew?
JV: I developed more of a love for running. Boogie Down gave me accountability, support, comfort. Knowing that I had the mile 20 cheer section to get to during the marathon was everything. For me, that’s where the marathon ends. I always say, if there’s anywhere I want to make it, it’s to Mile 20. Even if you’re like “wow, I’m slow,’ they’re still out there. Boogie Down has also opened so many doors to amazing opportunities like getting to run Hood to Coast and the Midnight Half.
GC: Boogie Down always encourages the women to get out there and try new things. I could never imagine doing half the things I've done if it wasn’t for the crew. I am going on my fourth marathon when I never even thought I would do one. TSP DIY is another event I will remember forever. Being on the first female team to represent Boogie Down was truly special.
What do you think Boogie Down means to the broader running community?
JV: There is a stylistic contribution; we have a particular style that no one else has. I think we also contribute the essence of family and resiliency. You feel like you fit in simply because you showed up.
GC: We have built such a strong sisterhood with female runners - we now call each other “soul sisters”. So many women from other crews make it a point to come to our Tuesday runs and to cheer with us when we run. It’s female empowerment to the fullest. We've even been able to inspire women internationally. I met a woman in Berlin when I ran the marathon there and whenever she sees me running, she always calls me her Berlin Sister.
YZ: I think we inspire women to be confident and we make it known that runners come in all shapes and sizes.
DR: People look up to the women of Boogie Down because of the presence and strength of character that they bring to the table. We look at things from a feminist perspective where we know that we need to lift women up so we don’t only cheer for each other, we are out there cheering on all women from all different crews. We want women to feel empowered and know that it's not just about running.
Boogie Down just celebrated its five year anniversary, why is that important?
JV: With other crews being so available in the area, anyone who saw Boogie Down when it started out might have thought it would be short-lived due to the lack of support for these types of programs in the Bronx. I feel like it shows an essence of thriving with very little resources.
YZ: Boogie Down is not only about pacing, they are so focused on community and that’s something the Bronx really needs.
DR: I remember when we first started. There were maybe 8 or 10 of us out there running and there must have been 100 people at our 5 year anniversary run. It was such a genuine turnout from both Boogie Down runners and people from other crews, and it speaks to the presence we now have. It’s a testament to how involved in the community we are, which is important since we have ranked as the unhealthiest county in New York for about 16 years in a row now and we need to change that.
Joining a run crew can be intimidating at first, what would you tell other women who might be on the fence?
JV: You have to show up. That’s it. Nothing more is needed from you. You don’t need to come with a specific skill or experience; you don’t have to worry about being judged. Show up dressed to run and they’re going to love and welcome you.
DR: Just come out with no expectations. The moment you’re out there that is the biggest step and when you feel the love you’re going to know that you belong. All you need to do is show up. That’s literally the hardest part.
What about Boogie Down Bronx stands out to you?
JV: There’s just so much. There’s something so raw and so Bronx about Boogie Down that always brings such a big turnout.
YZ: It’s the love. It’s the hype vibe. It’s hearing the YERRR! We represent culture in the Bronx.
DR: I am a huge supporter of community and health and bringing that to the youth is so important. I see so many moms out there running with their strollers and they are showing their children what it means to build community. Boogie Down is helping to show the youth that this exists.
Any last personal Boogie Down/running facts you want to share?
JV: I met my fiancé at a Boogie Down run!
GC: I’m currently a co-captain of Boogie Down!
YZ: My mom ran the marathon when she was pregnant with me and we just ran the 2021 marathon together!
DR: I am flying out for the Chicago Marathon just to cheer. I’m not even running!