In the summer of 2018, James Ro mentioned to some friends in their group chat that he wanted to start a running group. He posted an Instagram story and invited other people to join them. That informal gathering evolved into the Atlanta Run Club (A.R.C.), with a mission to change their community through love, solidarity, and running.
Their vision caught the attention of big names in the fitness industry, which has enabled A.R.C. to produce countless weekly runs, global campaigns, social functions, and organized races. Today their ethos of inclusivity and the experiences they provide reach far beyond their home city.
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“Running communicates such a strong parallel in life; the sport of just moving forward and overcoming hurdles and testing your endurance and perseverance.”
James hasn’t always been a runner; as a matter of fact, his earliest memory of running was “not actually a pleasant one.” In elementary school, he recalls,” I felt like I was always behind other kids doing mile tests and different physical exams and ironically,I learned to fall in love with it more so because of the benefits and the reward that you get from practicing it and continuing to do it.” But, he says, “as I continued to evolve through different seasons and stages of my life, running became my ally in really just overcoming different hurdles and challenges in my personal life.”
“The entryway into that sport should be welcoming, should be all-embracing and inclusive.”
He wanted to share the benefits that he derived from running with others, and create a “space of community for others to feel included and to be able to conquer their own journeys through running.” He and his friend Christian Haahs, now the creative director of A.R.C., started tossing ideas around.
Their intention from the beginning was that A.R.C. would be a community of “social athletes, people that kind of come out and their primary reason of wanting to run is to simply interact socially with others, and fitness just happens to be something that we all know we have to do because it’s good for our health. But first and foremost prioritizing that human connection element.”
“The best way to, I think, engage in diversity and inclusion is to simply walk alongside and symbolically and metaphorically and literally run alongside people in life.”
As an Asian-American, the son of Korean immigrants, James is no stranger to racism and discrimination. His goal, however, isn’t to “all get on the same page,” but rather to “appreciate that we’re on different pages and still be able to run in the same direction.” That, he says, is “when you’ll find the synergy in understanding each other and appreciating each other’s differences.”
A.R.C. has allowed him to “manifest and live out what we’ve always dreamed of, which is a space of inclusivity that is not mono-cultural, that is not exclusive in any sense.”
“Running can also be a metaphorical vehicle to communicate a larger message to the world.”
James has found that “when people are running towards something together, it kind of just draws attention to ‘What are they like? What is the ‘why’ behind their miles? What is the reason why they’re running?’” By exploring that, and getting “creative with how you use it in the community, it can scale out to something as big as getting people to stand behind and rally behind a message and make an impact on not just your community, but different communities around you too.”
“It’s not that I really enjoy the process of running, but I love how I feel after it.”
It’s the “benefits and rewards” of running that he embraces. “I love the discipline that it brings,” he says. “I love the just the feeling of accomplishment and completion, and being able to deal with others and create goals and accomplish goals and track goals, and I think when you take such a multi-dimensional platform like running that can really touch different areas of your life, you can make it to be anything you want.”
“For me, the journey of holistic health and wellness has always started with the mind.”
Running and working out have always been “a form of therapy” for him. He believes in using “physical activity as vessels to strengthen the mind,” and being outdoors is part of that too. “I love running out on the trails every now and then, and there’s just something about being able to connect with nature and being in tune with your outdoor environment, and in those moments and experiences, it grants me such a feeling of inner peace and reflection.”
Just as he wants others to enjoy the benefits of running, he wants them to be able to experience the therapeutic effect of being in nature. He’s become actively involved in fighting climate change, partly by joining the Allbirds Allgood Collective, “a collective of people coming together to make the world and our local spaces friendlier, more accessible, more inclusive and just better overall.”
“My approach and perspective is everyone has their source of inner peace and just learning to appreciate the differences in that, right?”
The church plays a major role in the lives of Korean-Americans; as James explains, “It was such an immigration hub for our parents’ generation to come together. It was the one place where people can gather consistently to just see each other and share cultures and eat the same foods together.”
Religion is often a source of division, but he’s found that “it’s expanded my view on people in a really good way. I think it’s fueled me to really appreciate and see human connection from a different angle.” People may not share a faith, but “the beauty is in the fact that we’re all just on different pages.”
“We all represent different things, but we’re still able to move forward and still appreciate the accomplishment of finishing a race, the accomplishment of ‘hey, we’re in this together.’”
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“Thank you” to James. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.