Sid Baptista

Making the Boston running scene more diverse and inclusive with the PIONEERS Run Crew

Sid Baptista is a runner, leader, and entrepreneur who’s here to disrupt the running industry. The Boston native went on his first run eight years ago and since then, he’s founded one of the most diverse running groups in Boston, created his own running apparel brand, and has become a widely recognizable face in the running space across the country.

Sid’s running journey began in 2014, shortly after quitting his corporate job to become an entrepreneur and start a music festival. Unfortunately, this venture didn’t work out and he was left struggling with his identity and trying to determine what to do next. It was at this low point that he saw something that made him pause. He saw a friend of his, a fellow black man, out running.

For decades, running as a sport was dominated by white men in split shorts, diligently logging their weekly mileage. Slowly, women began to join the ranks and the sport began to open up to other groups. Still, in North America, running has been a predominantly white activity. This is why it wasn’t until Sid saw his friend out running that he ever considered it as an activity he might enjoy.

“I had grown up being a sprinter - the 100, 200, 4 x 100, and 4 x 400 - but never anything beyond that,” says Sid.

“And so I saw him, this guy who’s running and happy, and thought ‘what's that about?’”

Sid Baptista

Founder, PIONEERS Run Crew

Soon after he joined the Nike Run Club. One year later, he ran his first marathon. From there, he became a Nike Run Pacer and coach, and started working for the Heartbreak Hill Running Company.

Sid could not have discovered running at a better time. More than just a way to get exercise, the sport brought stability and discipline into his life during a time when he needed something solid. It was the foundation upon which he could start his next venture outside corporate America.

The more involved Sid became in the Boston running community, the more he began to realize one problem - it lacked diversity. “I was raised in Boston and I lived in a predominantly black and brown area,” he says. “ I just got tired of being one of the few people of color at these events and in these running spaces.”

Running had already done so much for Sid, and he wanted other people like him to have the opportunity to get involved in the sport. This is what spurred him to start his own running group in 2017. Away from the “traditional” Boston running spaces like Cambridge or the Back Bay, he created PIONEERS Run Crew in his own neighborhood to diversify the running community in Boston and bring running to people who needed it.

“If running was helping me cope and bringing stability in my life, then I wanted to bring running to others because it could provide stability in their lives too,” says Sid.

“And I figured, if running could do that for me, I wonder what it could do for the people that need it in these neighborhoods where there's a lot of crime and a lot of poverty.”

Sid Baptista

Founder, PIONEERS Run Crew

Today, PIONEERS is arguably the most diverse running group in the city. They’ve done partnerships with major brands and have now touched the lives of more than 2,000 people. They’ve created a culture of running in communities that never realized running existed. Sid has seen people advance in their jobs thanks to PIONEERS, find stability in their lives, and helped people feel safe running in their communities.

“People who grew up here who were runners would leave the neighborhood to go run because they didn't feel comfortable, or normal, to run in their own neighborhoods,” he says. “We’ve seen people find community, people meet spouses.”

The group is working with city officials to bring more running events to their communities and is currently working with the Boston Athletic Association (the organization behind the Boston Marathon) to host more running events in non-traditional running areas around the city. “In our partnership with the BAA we're helping them think through what equity means in running,” says Sid. “So we're really changing the landscape of what it means to be a runner.”

What does equity in running mean? For Sid, it’s both personal and societal. If you can go out for a run and feel like a runner, that’s the first step. This is achieved by seeing other people who look like you engaging in the sport as well. True equity in running, however, occurs when governments and societies provide communities with safe spaces for running and facilitate running events in those areas, thereby making the sport more accessible.

There’s no doubt that Sid and his PIONEERS Run crew are making running more accessible for the people of Boston. The growth of the group and the dedicated following they have is a testament to their impact. With growth, however, comes challenges - namely organization and communication.

Sid and his team were some of the earliest adopters of the Heylo platform. They had tried many different platforms to communicate with their members, like Facebook, but hadn’t found something that gave them all of the functionality they needed. “I saw early on that we needed to be able to organize multiple events at one time with information that’s all in one place,” says Sid. “We needed a place for people to connect online, but not necessarily like on Instagram or on Facebook. Something that was dedicated to what we're doing.”

The group needed features like the ability to organize events and streamline chat communications into different topics. In its early stages, Heylo didn’t have everything they wanted, but with feedback from the PIONEERS, it gradually became the platform they needed to keep their group running smoothly.

Not surprisingly, the feedback Sid’s gotten from community members has been overwhelmingly positive - not just for the running group, but also for his running apparel line, PYNRS, which creates streetwear-inspired performance running apparel designed for 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒍 bodies. “The running industry has been very singular for such a long time, especially when it comes to apparel,” he says. “Even when these new brands pop up, they try to talk like they're different but they all look the same. Many people like what we’ve created in the running community because it's authentic. It's real.”

PIONEERS Run Crew meets every Wednesday at 6:30 pm in Dorchester (details, of course, on Heylo). Anyone is welcome to join - whether this is your first run or you’ve been at it for years. “If you want to get in the running, you got to start running right?” says Sid. “We're here to support your journey, wherever it is. If you're looking to get in the running, we're a good place to start.”