Find Yourself Out Here

No matter your size or ability level, endurance athlete Latoya Snell encourages you to discover the joy and freedom of al fresco exercise.

- By Rozalynn S. Frazier

The outdoor adventure community is not a monolith. People of all sizes, hues and abilities enjoy nature and accomplish athletic feats with grace and grit daily—from hiking to rock climbing to mountain biking. Unfortunat­ely, not everyone feels welcome in these pursuits, particular­ly those who self-identify as fat. From the looks of disbelief to the lack of properly sized gear, all signs seem to be saying: This is not the place for you.

But Latoya Shauntay Snell (above), founder of the blog Running Fat Chef, has not let this deter her from taking up space—literally and figurative­ly—in the outdoors. She started running in 2013 and entered her first race the next year. Being a Brooklyn girl, she was fearful of tapping into nature. But after her friend, activist and endurance athlete Mirna Valerio, led her on her first hike

in 2016, she was hooked. “I found myself invigorate­d,” says Snell. “There is something that is natural, that overcomes me and makes me feel alive.”

That’s the feeling Snell wants everyone to experience, and she has led countless others on their maiden voyages ever since. She has also expanded her own outdoor adventures to include endurance trail running and obstacle races. “I want people to look at me and see that you can insert yourself here,” says Snell. “Sure, I might be the only person that looks like me on the trail, but if I keep showing up, going outside and openly talking about these things, I won’t be the only one for long.”

Visualizat­ion can be a powerful first step. And she encourages women to “Tell yourself: ‘I am powerful. I am allowed to be here. I am allowed to take up as much space as I desire.’” (Snell visualized the

finish line of her very first 100-kilometer trail race in 2018. And yes, she finished!) Then try to let go of what people think. For Snell, that meant releasing the idea that she had to be a certain size to take on these adventures—and just getting out there and doing it. “The more I was listening to others’ negative commentary, the more I was limiting myself,” she says. “I wasn’t acknowledg­ing that I was doing all the work of an athlete, but I am just not built like them.” As Snell took on more activities, she says, “People started shifting their narrative from, ‘There is no way you can do that’ to ‘Holy crap, you did that—and now I want to too!’”

Above all, Snell insists that athletic pursuits don’t always have to be about finishing that big trail race or making it to the summit of a mountain. They can just be about showing up to an outdoor space and moving—because it all counts.

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