Black History Month Spotlight: Latoya Shauntay Snell Is Redefining Fitness-Industry Norms

In honor of Black History Month 2019, FN is celebrating African-American movers and shakers in footwear and fashion by recognizing their accomplishments and inviting them to share insight into how the industry can make bigger diversity strides.

Latoya Shauntay Snell’s career kicked off at one of the lowest points in her life.

“I was miscarrying,” she said of the experience she endured in 2017. “My body was rejecting to hold on to a kid. According to social norms, you’re not a woman unless you’re able to bear children.”

But Snell has been battling social norms for years. At 5 feet 3 inches and 242 pounds, she’s an accomplished runner. In the span of five years, the Hoka One One athlete finished nearly 200 running and obstacle course events. She’s also completed 15 marathons, 5 ultramarathons and at least 20 half-marathons. More recently, she ran the Javelina Jundred 100K in Arizona and, less than a week later, the New York City Marathon — and now she’s checking off New Orleans, with Tokyo and Big Sur in California to come, as well as a marathon every week in May.

Snell is also openly bisexual, yet she’s been married to her husband for more than 12 years. (The two share a son, who is 11.) “I’ve had people tell me I have the convenience because I have a husband, so I can hide if I want to,” she explained. “But I choose not to hide.”

Instead of allowing the bumps in the road to slow her down, Snell used her experience to push herself forward and become a voice for those with similar yet muted struggles through her blog, Running Fat Chef.

“Somebody has to start it,” she said. “History teaches you that all it takes is one person to change the way that things go. My whole mantra is to change the narrative.”

Here’s how Snell is making that change.

What made you want to pursue a career in the athletic industry? How did you break in?

“I consider myself an accidental activist. When my story went viral in 2017 about getting heckled in the New York City Marathon, I was scared. I was already getting heckling then, but I felt the biggest heckler was me. I’ve heckled myself for so many years because of things I’ve heard about myself. ‘You speak too loud.’ ‘You’re too fat.’ Before that point, I was so used to talking to less than a thousand people [on social media]; I felt like I could talk to these people in a comfortable setting. Taking it to a platform where now I’m getting to know another audience who’s not into running, I didn’t know how they would perceive that article. But I did not expect to have so many people who were not into fitness to be able to relate. If it wasn’t for that article, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

Looking back on your career to this point, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

“I have a highlight every year. 2013 gave me permission to try. I never pictured I would be jumping off of a perfectly good airplane in 2014. I told myself I wanted to do something crazy to celebrate weight loss, which got me to believe I was much stronger.”

As a minority, what has been the biggest obstacle you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

“When I ran anything past the half-marathon point, people were like, ‘Black people don’t do that.’ I had to find like-minded groups with people who happened to be of color, too, who said, ‘Yes, you can do this.’ Sometimes we put barriers on ourselves because we’ve been conditioned for years not to do this — because other people have told us that were not supposed to do this. That’s the reason why as adults we have the responsibility to our youth to be able to change that narrative, to remind them that the only limit they should set on themselves are the ones that they place.”

What is the biggest challenge African-Americans face in the athletic industry?

“It’s going to take a lot [to reverse] hundreds of years of damage. We’re always forced to look back in order to move forward. If we don’t, we’re doomed to repeat those same mistakes. I think that’s true even in fitness and sports. But that doesn’t discourage me from being in sports. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have progress. You cannot be fearful of what will and will not happen. If you want to see that change, you have to be that change.”

What is the best advice you would offer other African-Americans looking to break into the athletic industry?

“I like to say, ‘Inspiring people inspire other inspiring people who may not know that they’re inspiring.’ It’s all a cycle. For me, I was inspired by somebody online. I opened Instagram, and the first post I saw was this lady in Florida who was doing these crazy workouts. I was like, ‘I could possibly do that’ — even though my mindset was really pessimistic. I was fat, sluggish, couldn’t move. My body was in shambles. My doctor was telling me I wasn’t going to have my mobility. All she [the Instagram user] did was ask me five questions, and those five questions essentially took me on this [journey]. That was May 28, 2013; May 27, I looked in the mirror and cried, and then on May 28, I gave myself a real chance on life. When I started this, it was never about everybody else. I wanted to be able to do this for me. What she asked me to do was be vocal and find people to hold me accountable. The best way for that to happen was through social media.”

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