When Rob Jackson returned to his hometown of Baltimore a disabled Army veteran in 2006, he, like many soldiers who experience war, suffered from PTSD. But how he decided to cope with it was unique: he ran. Over the next ten years, Jackson’s runs grew from solo jaunts to group outings, ultimately evolving into an inclusive run crew named RIOT (Running Is Our Therapy) Squad.
“Even in Baltimore, where the city is about 65% Black, you don't see a lot of runners who are people of color like me,” Jackson said. “I don't fit the normal body type of a runner either — I'm 5-foot-6, over 200 pounds, have a bunch of tattoos, am an older guy… I don't have this slim, skinny build, so you don't see a lot of folks like me running.”
Through RIOT Squad, Jackson is challenging the conventional idea of a runner, welcoming people of all identities and skill levels into his crew. And this year, the group has teamed up with Under Armour to encourage a similar, diverse turnout at the polls in a city that consistently registers one of the lowest voter turnouts of metropolitan areas in the country.
Rob Jackson is the founder of Baltimore-based run crew RIOT Squad.
RIOT Squad is one of five run crews that have become Under Armour brand partners over the last five years. While each crew is unique, driven to run for different reasons, they are all grassroots groups dedicated to making a positive change in their communities. That’s why when Under Armour launched its MapMyRun #RunToVote challenge — part of its broader Run to Vote initiative — these run crews embraced it wholeheartedly. Every single one participated.
“The run crews were all already doing a lot of activism on their own, so collaborating with them to amplify the Run To Vote challenge just made sense,” said Jami Crist, director of run and train sports marketing at Under Armour. “We’ve never done a campaign like this before, and voting is so personal, I believe that’s why it has resonated so much with our run crews.”
The #RunToVote challenge encourages participants to log 11.3 miles on the MapMyRun app between October 12 and Election Day (November 3) to show a commitment to civic engagement. But Under Armour’s run crews have taken this challenge to the next level, spelling out “vote” in run route art across the country.
Run art has long been a creative activity among runners, allowing them to add some excitement to their routes and express themselves along the way. While run art can be a challenge to coordinate, Under Armour has simplified the process via the MapMyRun website. And many runners say that it is worth the effort — sharing run art creations helps foster a stronger running community and encourages connection long after the run is over.
Under Armour’s own CEO, Patrik Frisk, has gotten involved in the #RunToVote challenge, making progress toward his 11.3 miles by running through the streets of Baltimore. He also plans to create his own “vote” run art before November 3, which will mark his first time voting in a U.S. presidential election.
“My morning jog yesterday around Baltimore took on a new meaning as I joined Under Armour’s #RuntoVote challenge to call out the importance of voting,” Frisk said in a tweet. “As a new voter, #RuntoVote is personal to me.”
Like Frisk, Jackson is also as passionate about exercising his right as he is about exercising in general. And while he acknowledges the importance of this year’s presidential election, he is truly dedicated to voting on the local level because of his love for Baltimore.
“We have to think beyond November 3,” Jackson said. “With local elections, voter turnout is really important because we have to hold the people in office accountable. Take my local councilman — I’m sending him emails all the time, raising concerns about not having sidewalks, requesting curbs and streetlights to be fixed, things like that. If you want to see change in your community, you have to go out and vote. You have to make your voice heard.”