Adina Crawford leads a meditation session along the Billy Goat Trail as part of a hiking excursion for Black Girls Run. Photo by Louis Tinsley

On a blustery Saturday night in February, there was a buzz of energy inside the Fleet Feet store in Gaithersburg.

Women of various backgrounds, sizes and running levels had come for a community-building event that Adina Crawford of Germantown had helped organize for the local chapter of Black Girls Run! (BGR), a national organization. As they tried on shoes and waited in line to get fitted for sports bras, there was chatter and laughter among friends old and new. Some were catching up after their running groups had gone on hiatus during the pandemic. Others came for the first time in search of encouragement to get started.

Applause filled the store when the winning raffle number was drawn for a new pair of running shoes and as organizers offered a pep talk, of sorts, to the women.

“I’m excited to be here,” a smiling Crawford, 58, told the crowd. “It doesn’t matter what race you are. We are all community. Walkers, joggers—we welcome everyone!”

Whether coaching runners, leading a yoga class or advising fitness retailers on inclusivity, Crawford aims to motivate others to move and feel good, no matter who they are. She often shares her own experience, which began about 12 years ago when she weighed more than 300 pounds and decided to get healthy. “I came into the fitness game really late,” says Crawford, who joined various running groups and found connection to others through BGR. “What kept me going is I found the sisterhood. …The rest is history.”

Rockville resident Kelly El’Amin, 46, a BGR member who attended the event, says Crawford is having a powerful impact. “No one works harder for the health and wellness for Black women,” she says. “When I see someone who looks like me and has a body like me, I’m inspired. And it’s generational. When my kids see me run, they will want to run.”

Crawford is all about creating inclusive exercise spaces in Montgomery County, particularly for Black women and other people of color who don’t often see many people like themselves in traditionally white-dominated gyms and activities. She wants to increase participation by breaking down stereotypes—something she has faced numerous times.

Once, she was about to start a yoga class in Bethesda when someone asked her where the teacher was—assuming it couldn’t be her, she says. “I’m not a skinny chick. I am who I am,” says Crawford, who is 5 feet, 11 inches tall. To be accepted as a Black yoga instructor, she says she has to work much harder, but she’s determined to push through so more women like her feel comfortable getting fit.

“We need to have a seat at the table. We need to feel welcome,” Crawford says. “When we come into these different sports or activities…we just want to be part of it.”

Crawford reaches out to fitness companies to request that they be more representative of people of color in their images and messaging. For instance, she recently worked with REI to broaden its understanding of what it means to be outdoorsy. Crawford gathered stories about how people from diverse communities enjoy the outdoors, even detailing the different kinds of food they eat around a campfire, according to an REI representative.

Crawford leads Black Girls Run! members in a meditation session after their hike on the Billy Goat Trail. Photo by Louis Tinsley

There are disparities in the fitness landscape that Crawford is working to address.

Notable racial and ethnic differences in exercise patterns exist in the United States: Hispanic adults have the highest prevalence of physical inactivity (32%), followed by Black (30%), American Indian/Alaska Native (29%), white (23%) and Asian adults (20%), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, about 6% of yoga instructors are Black, according to research by employment resource Zippia.

Lack of regular exercise is one of many factors, including the impact of centuries of structural racism, that public health officials say contribute to poorer health outcomes for Black Americans. They experience higher rates of illness and health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma and heart disease, compared with their white counterparts, according to federal health data. Indeed, life expectancy for Black Americans is four years lower than that of white Americans, according to the CDC.

Crawford sees her work as part of a bigger public health discussion and is committed to modeling healthy living and opening doors for all women.

As a runner, Crawford has completed several half-marathons and two marathons. She is a lead cyclist (referred to as a “lady shero”) with the local chapter of Black Girls Do Bike and recently took up swimming, combining her talents to compete in duathlons and indoor triathlons. Crawford is certified in yoga, meditation and aqua instruction. She moved up the ranks to be an ambassador for the local BGR chapter and is on the board of directors for the BGR Foundation.

Once she got active and felt better, Crawford says, she was compelled to support other women to do the same.

“I find that I have a gift to bring to others—to let them feel that they are whole, and they are worthy,” Crawford says. “It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey, but when you start, you become unstoppable.”

Fitness instructor Courtney Cornwall and Crawford walk along the Billy Goat Trail during the Black Girls Run! hike. Photo by Louis Tinsley

Crawford, who is originally from Massachusetts, studied travel and business management in college. She and her husband of 29 years, Burnett, have one son, Burnett III, 32, who is a trainer at Equinox in Boston. Since 1989, Crawford has been a civilian employee at the Montgomery County Police Department. She works full time as a records division supervisor and also volunteers with the department’s peer support team, calling on officers’ families following a tragedy.

“Adina is a very heartwarming, open individual. She has a great love and care for people,” says MCPD Chief Marcus Jones, adding that she’s gone “above and beyond” offering yoga classes and promoting well-being among the employees.

It’s tough to get up at 4:15 in order to lead 30 people on a 5 a.m. run, especially in winter, but Crawford has a can-do attitude and knows how to include people who may otherwise feel intimidated to get, and stay, involved, says her friend and fellow runner Lisa Roberts of Boyds. The BGR chapter, called GLAM (Germantown Ladies Always Moving), has dressed up in Halloween costumes for workouts, and during Pride Month each member picked a color to create a human rainbow.

Monique Coleman, 42, of Clarksburg started as a walker five years ago through BGR. Crawford’s example inspired Coleman, who eventually completed a half-marathon and lost 100 pounds. Crawford’s advice? “Never stop,” says Coleman. In October 2019, Coleman opened the Thick Chixx dance fitness studio in Damascus that offers workout classes focusing on body positivity. “Everyone is included. No body is left behind, kind of like Black Girls Run!” Coleman says.

As a yoga teacher, Crawford says her goal is to make her students, at whatever level, feel their best from the inside out.
In a seated yoga class called Gentle Flow and Form at Onelife Fitness in Germantown, Crawford modifies poses for the students, mostly older women. For instance, instead of hinging from the hips to touch the floor, students place their feet in front of them and bend to touch their toes while in their chairs. As a recent class wraps up, Crawford sends them forth with reassuring words.

“Be kind to yourself. Always meet your body where it needs to be,” Crawford says. While the women roll up their mats, she asks how they’re feeling and encourages them to return the next week.

Wendy Block has been a regular in the class for six months. The 70-year-old retiree who lives in Montgomery Village says Crawford “has the perfect personality for teaching yoga. She’s very calm. Her voice is easy to follow. It’s a joyful class. I leave feeling more energized.”

To turn the tide for others, Crawford wants to help increase the presence of women of all sizes and backgrounds in advertising for fitness products. She partners with several companies to diversify their marketing, modeling their products and promoting brands on her social media channels. She’s known as deanietheyogini on Instagram.

Crawford has been a fit model for Terry Precision Cycling and has given the company feedback on its plus-size clothing. On a recent photo shoot in Miami, she added colorful accessories and struck playful poses, says Paula Dyba, Terry’s vice president of marketing and creative director.

“Everything she does has a sense of joy, a sense of humor and sense of inclusivity and goodness all wrapped into one,” she says of Crawford. “She has been a great ambassador for not just the brand, but for cycling, for women being active. The power of one person is impressive.”

Crawford is part of the influencer ambassador program for the footwear company OOFOS. If she likes a new product, she introduces it to her followers on social media. In return, the company sometimes supports her community events, says Darren Brown, the head of marketing at OOFOS. For instance, OOFOS provided free shoes to first responders at the county police department who attended one of her yoga classes during Mental Health Awareness Month in May 2021.

“When I connect with the brand, the ideals and the beliefs definitely have to resonate with me,” says Crawford, who contacts companies to be featured on their platforms and to push them to boost diversity throughout their operation.

To keep track of her classes and events, Crawford writes on a big dry-erase board that hangs on the calming Caribbean blue walls of her “serenity room” in her house. She does not, however, track her weight. Crawford never gets on a scale. She has dropped a few clothing sizes since becoming a late bloomer to fitness.

More important, she says, is how she feels: “Energetic. Alive. Fulfilled.”

Caralee Adams is a freelance writer in Bethesda who covers health, education and other topics for Bethesda Magazine.