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For Zainab Tumbo, her biggest barrier to participating in sports came from a deeply personal place: her culture.

“In my Maasai culture, women are not supposed to do such activities – especially grown women who have given birth. It’s taboo to be seen doing these activities,” explains Tumbo, who is a recent newcomer to Canada from Kenya.

Map of Canada with British Columbia highlighted
Project Love Run, BC

But the former Simon Fraser University student, who completed her graduate studies in ecological anthropology in June 2023, was given the incredible opportunity to overcome this personal barrier. This past spring, she ran alongside newcomer and refugee women as part of the Project Love Run’s Take it To The Trails 2023 program, which took place in Vancouver.

Take it to the Trails 2023 was made possible thanks to funding from the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association’s Reaching Each and Every One: A Community Sport Intervention program. This program, which was funded by the Government of Canada’s Community Sport for All Initiative, seeks to remove barriers and increase sport participation rates for equity deserving groups across Canada.

Filsan Abdiaman, Project Love Run’s founder and trail running coach, says the funding allowed the organization to offer programming to newcomer and refugee women who were new to trail running, and running in general.

PLR Take it to The Trails celebratory race at the end of the clinic marked a significant milestone for PLR – welcoming not only more Black and Racialized trail runners but a Black (Muslim) Woman, trail race director. Photo by Sherry Young

“I felt that it was really important to get more folks into the trail running scene. This funding opened our programming up to beginner runners, and allowed that to be a possibility,” says Abdiaman.

Take it to the Trails 2023 offered two clinic programs to 17 participants – one that trained for a 5K walk or run, and the other that trained for a 10K walk or run. The clinics culminated in a fun, non-competitive trail race at the end of the program.

“The program was a huge success from start to finish,” says Abdiaman. “It was amazing to see the folks that are completely new to running just being on the trails, being in awe of nature, and just taking in the whole experience of running for the first time. It was incredible.”

She says many newcomer and refugee woman face barriers to sport in the community – including transportation, and the cost of trail running gear. Take it to the Trails helped break down these barriers for participants.

“We stuck to local trails in Vancouver, and I organized carpools for the groups which made it way more accessible for folks,” Abdiaman explains. “They also needed the right gear for trail running, especially in Vancouver when it’s raining and pouring outside. I organized gear for folks that were part of the clinic and just made it as accessible as possible.”

Abdiaman adds that many of the participants also faced personal barriers, like Tumbo, which the program helped them overcome. For example, she says some participants had a fear of trail running alone.

“There’s a fear that anything can happen when you’re out on the trails, and this program offered them the tools they need to feel safe,” she says.

The funding support, she adds, helped reinforce Project Love Run’s philosophy of “running in love.”

PLR Take it to The Trails, a clinic and racing event of many firsts.. bringing newcomer/refugee women and first time trail runners together for the very first time. Photo by Sherry Young

“We draw an awareness to how systems of oppression intersect with running culture, which complicates our relationship to not only the sport – but to our bodies as well. This interferes with the running experience, and makes it feel really hard,” Abdiaman says. “We try to focus on a connection to our bodies, and connection to each other. It’s building those relationships that matter.”

As a participant, Tumbo says she certainly felt these connections – which ignited her passion for running, and gave her confidence to continue participating in the sport.

“I can still be a Maasai woman, and still be able to do other activities, such as sports, that improve my daily life,” she says. “This opportunity meant a lot to me. It’s a healthy activity that is psychologically helpful and socially beneficial – which is essential for a newcomer to Canada who is away from their close family, and outside of their comfort zone.”