Taking ‘one step’ with Highland Park Runners

Clayton Rosa, co-founder of the Running Club, poses on York Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 5, 2021. Anna Braz/The Occidental

Since the summer of 2015, Highland Park residents have gathered in front of York Park at 7:30 p.m. every Tuesday, ready to walk, jog or run, according to Clayton Rosa, the co-founder of Highland Park Runners (HLPR). The group encourages everyone to show up and take one single step, Rosa said.

Chris Ramirez, a Highland Park resident and the other co-founder of HLPR,began the organization because he wanted to start a running community, according to Rosa. During tough moments in his life, Ramirez found inspiration in running and wanted to share it with others, according to the HLPR Facebook page. The two founders quickly connected, held a few meetings, designed a logo, set up the Facebook page and picked July 7, 2015 as the date for their very first community run.

At the time, Rosa was running solo. But creating space for group running strongly aligned with his personal beliefs.

“Being someone that believes deeply in the power of community, [I wondered] how I could transform my love for running into a vehicle that could empower my community,” Rosa said.

In 2018, the HLPR group became a non-profit organization, according to Rosa. The goal of this transformation was to provide scholarships, called “The Next Step,” to high school students who ran the LA Marathon with Students Run LA. The scholarship, which is still being finalized, will encourage students to discuss their own next step in life and how running impacted their ability to achieve their goals and inspire others, Rosa said.

Except during the pandemic, HLPR has led weekly three-mile runs, according to Chuck Pettry, a Highland Park resident and a regular runner with the organization. To begin each run, people gather in a circle at York Park to hear about the philosophy of HLPR. According to Rosa, the organization is about much more than running, since it also seeks to motivate people to take action to reach their goals in all aspects of their lives. Whether it is taking one positive step in running, career, mental health or general well-being, HLPR is here to inspire and jump-start that process, Rosa said. Rosa said he asks the group: what is the one step you have taken this past week?

This question builds a shared intimacy and motivation, according to Rosa. The answers vary, Rosa said, showing that “one step” is about working towards a happy life, whether that includes running or not.

A few weeks back someone shared that he picked up the violin again, and is now training for a concert in November,” Rosa said.

Maria Mota, a regular in the group, is currently training for the Los Angeles Marathon. When sharing her one step quote, Mota said that running a marathon before she turns 50 is one of her goals.

A member of the group leads a collective stretch. Rosa said he then lays out the route, and the group is finally geared up and ready to run. In order to ensure that runners of every speed are welcome, the group has “pacers,” according to Pettry. Rosa and a few volunteers will position themselves at the front, middle and back of the pack, allowing people to move from pace to pace while always staying within the group, Rosa said — no one is left behind.

Mota said that although paces vary, everybody meets at the finish line.

“I really love how at the end, when we are all done, everyone kinda lingers around and waits for everybody,” Mota said. “Everybody has different paces, but everyone waits, cheering you on.”

The organization is always welcoming new faces, according to Rosa. Arsie Carrillo, a Highland Park resident, said she joined the HLPR for the first time Oct. 5. Carrillo said her 26-year-old son, Armando, had run with the group before and recommended it to her since she had a deep love for running since high school.

Carrillo said she was a little nervous about coming for the first time, but also understands and loves the benefits of running.

“There are moments where you just feel it in your body. You want [to run],” Carrillo said. “It is something that your body wants to do.”

Rosa said he loves watching the community come together. Whether people are training for their first 5K, marathon or just want to stretch their legs, HLPR provides a safe and supportive space.

“A lot of what allows us to get past those walls that we hit is that community support,” Rosa said. “And that is true in every aspect of our lives.”