With 20 national championships in six disciplines and nine international gold medals, Joseph Gray is the most decorated American mountain runner, with many variations.
In a wide maritime race – which includes everything from the 100-mile ultramarathon to the highest elevation – he is one of the best ever, as a four-time world champion and four-time Pikes winner. Peak Ascent. , one of the strongest races in the country.
The Gray specialty of mountain running – a type of high-altitude running route, with challenging and technical surfaces, with significant steep advantages and disadvantages – is still a good game. But the ongoing process is generally flourishing.
Running as a planned sport started in the mid-1990s and now has approximately 20 million participants, who compete in 25,000 races around the world, according to World Athletics.
Gray pursues her love on the way – and on the run – back to her childhood. At the age of 6, he moved with his family to Heidelberg, Germany, where his father was detained by the US military. He spent a lot of time exploring the forests with friends. “We made all kinds of games in the woods near the base,” he said. “I started running a lot, getting lost and looking for a way back home.”
After relocating to Tacoma, Wash., Gray began to run competitively on his school’s song team in seventh grade. The coaches focused on his dedication and talent. In high school, he fled the country, winning a team government trophy and an individual award. He continued to run the country and pursue Oklahoma State University and qualified for the NCAA championship six times.
His first election race was more than just running with a friend in 2007, a year after completing his joint running career. His rise in the game had an atmosphere. Within a year, he was named national team.
Although most elite athletes are Black, a few athletes at the peak of the election and running up the mountain are. There are a few Black Race players on European teams, but Gray is the only African American on the American Mountain Race Team. His distance is just as good as his steadfastness: He has been called up to the team 33 times in 14 years, in nine heights and disciplines, from the 50-kilometer sprint to the snowmaking.
I talked to Gray about his way of becoming a paid mountain runner, the challenges of being one of the few Black runners on the starting line and how he hopes to inspire a new generation of athletes.
This interview has been edited and summarized.
What was life like as a military child?
We moved a lot. Kentucky to Germany to Washington. I was able to immerse myself in other cultures at a young age, which created me. I also gained insight into how time passes. When Dad was home, he always wanted to have a family. I didn’t understand this at the time, but I do the same now.
Like most competing athletes, you started out on the national and international teams in high school and university. How did it go from one way to another?
I joined a good friend for the race and fell into the game very quickly. It was a new challenge for me, learning how to deal with mixed lands, high elevations, climate and so on. The following summer, I formed an American team and from there I was present. That was 15 years ago.
What about wearing American uniforms when you run?
It’s a big deal. My father had represented the country in the army for over 20 years. We moved to Germany during the Desert Storm, and I began to appreciate the great sacrifice we had made to protect our independence. That experience puts it all in perspective for me. I am proud of our country, and it is a gift to represent it.
You have won a national or world title every year since 2009. What is the secret to your resilience?
Never take shortcuts. For me, success comes from loving what I do. I like to keep working to compete. If you are in money or fame, it will pass. You can win one or two races, but when things get tough you will fall and quit the game. You can tell runners that they like to run because they are competing after race. For all their work, really.
How has your experience as a Black Runner contributed to your career?
I have dealt with race issues since high school. I was called a troublemaker in the cross country, especially when I was beating up the best white kids. At Oklahoma State University, I was introduced to the military and heard a lot of insults. The better I became, the more the nation’s race, the more I excelled. I have learned not to waste energy on these people. I would love to use it for the next generation.
Is a continuous path more inclusive?
A lot of people like to say that, but I don’t think so. It was frustrating for me when people would say there is no issue of color in the election, but I do not feel like these now. Sure, anyone can register for the race, but it’s about how people treat you, how warm they are, how they feel and eyes. Many people think that socializing with others is a physical thing, but it is more than that.
You have been open about your race and experience as a Black athlete in the last few years. What motivated you to speak?
I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I couldn’t keep quiet. It started with a conversation with close friends, realizing that we all had the same hatred. Winning the race was not enough to change the game; I needed to share my experiences with others. For a long time, I was worried about losing funding, which was terrible because it was my livelihood. These people were influential in my work. It was beneficial for my family to shut me up.
Did you feel any pressure to talk about issues of color and identity?
I feel pressure. People send me many messages as soon as national issues arise, asking me to share my thoughts, but I would like to do my research first. Sometimes, I will say something, but in general I try not to do reactive things. When I started sharing my story over six or seven years ago, it was amazing to see [negative] answers. I did not want issues. I did not want people to hate me. But I have learned that when people say such things, they only want the situation to continue. I would not say, I would be a coward.
What needs to change in the game to get more people of color in the polls?
Games are dominated by the media. They dictate who it belongs to by showing what it looks like. When I was a child, magazines would never show Black people camping, climbing a mountain or running away. You would be ridiculed for doing such things, as people say, “That’s a white man’s thing.” Changing the optics is an important step. Top athletes attract more athletes like them. If we are just talking about white runners today, it is hard to inspire the next generation of black runners tomorrow.