A journey that started with getting in shape for vacation has now turned into one woman’s life’s work – though the story may not be what you think. When a Hispanic woman living in Tacoma discovered running, she noticed very few people of color alongside her.
So she decided to do something to change that. Yevette Donde founded a group called “Latinx in Motion” in 2020, which has now blossomed to thousands of members and become an official nonprofit.
“Running really changed my life,” said Yevette Donde, who is six feet tall. She said when she first moved to Tacoma from Mexico City about 10 years ago, she ended up weighing 406 pounds.
“I didn’t walk a block. I smoked a pack and a half a day,” Donde said.
A planned family trip to Machu Picchu pushed her to start working out.
“My friends were like, let’s do a 5k and I was like okay… I hated it. People were smiling like you got this! Andi was like, ‘No, I’m miserable,’” Donde said with a laugh.
But slowly – she got hooked on the challenge
“I was able to walk 3 miles and it felt like a lot. After that I was like I need to be able to jog three miles, six miles, 10 miles,” Donde said.
Not only did she make it to Machu Picchu, but she also kept up with the running.
“That was the first time I sensed community in Washington,” Donde said. “I don’t belong here but they make me feel like I belong here,” she said.
Along the way – she lost 200 pounds – and ran multiple marathons, even a couple of ultra-marathons.
“It’s how your body feels, it’s being vulnerable with other people, and having that experience – no matter your color, language, or where you come from,” Donde said.
But she noticed something in her found community.
“Once a week I see these people and it’s like they’re family. But where is the Latinos? Where are we?” she said. “Every time I go running and every time my distance becomes longer, I did not see representation. That really bothered me,” Donde said.
She says that’s what pushed her to start a running group, Latinx in Motion – originally called Latinx Run the USA. Latinx in Motion now helps train people for races, including marathons. The community can also help access care for running injuries and is working on getting funding to help disadvantaged runners with things like shoes.
Donde said said part of launching the nonprofit was wanting to share the joy she discovered.
“When you’re on the trail with other people you like or love, nothing else matters,” she said. “I wanted to bring that to this community. I wanted to have people say ‘Vámonos’, things in Spanish while I was running.”
But another big motivator – Donde wanted to share the health she found.
“Latinos are among the highest in the U.S. with diabetes,” Donde said. “I’m really concerned for the health of my community,” she said.
Donde pointed to an indigenous tribe in northern Mexico, the Tarahumara (Rarámuri), who are famous for long-running (as in hundreds of miles at a time) and known for dominating ultramarathons.
“I think we have it in our blood,” Donde said. And she has a theory for why there is a lack of brown faces running in the United States.
“I feel the immigrant Latino community here has a different experience – because you come here to work. You come here to support family back home. So sometimes we forget that life is more than just that,” Donde said.
Jorge De Santiago heard about the group a few years ago. He said he’s played soccer casually but had never tried running
“I was like why not? Trying something different,” De Santiago said. He says discovering the sport was transformative.
“She is changing all the Latino lives now because – like me for example – I was just thinking to work, do my job, trying to build something for my future. Without taking the time for me, like a person,” De Santiago said.
He owns a restaurant – called “Andale!! Mexican Restaurant” in Tacoma.
“As a self-employee you have to – you don’t have time for yourself,” De Santiago said. But he said running and training for marathons forced him to make time.
“Sometimes I had to run 10 miles after work. At midnight I was running, under the rain,” he said. The experience changed his entire outlook.
“I can do something for myself. To feel more health and change my perception of being here,” De Santiago said.
Along the way, Donde also changed his life in another way – they fell in love.
“We’re both into outdoorsy things,” Donde said.
“I found the person who keeps me out there,” De Santiago said.
They got married in January of 2023 at Mount Baker’s Artist’s Point.
“It was snow shoe hike, outfit change at the top of the mountain, it was a lot of fun,” Donde said. The photos are stunning – Donde is in a burgundy dress with a white faux fur cape, as the snowy landscape of peaks and valleys surrounds them.
Now together – Donde and De Santiago are running for change, for others.
“For us to have a voice, have a place, and not feel like an outsider,” Donde said.
“I hear from other Mexicans, Latinos, or other nationalities that they feel the same. Take the first step in doing something different,” De Santiago said.
Donde was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy a couple of years ago and had to start over on her fitness and health journey. She is now training for the Ragnar ultra marathon in Oregon in August.
She has also started other efforts to help people in the Hispanic community, such as helping domestic violence survivors who don’t speak English.
“How can we support each other? It has become something way, way bigger than I expected,” Donde said.