Meet Mika Takahashi (@mikat82), Zensah Ambassador since 2020, runner, co-founder of Run Higher Collective and member of Original Propaganda Athletic Club (the anti-running club running movement -that we love!- based in Philly). May is not only Mental Health Awareness Month, but also Asian Pacific Heritage Month. To honor and celebrate #APAHM, Mika wrote some reflections in her own words about her journey as a runner and a member of a first generation multicultural household. Takahashi shares her journey with running, identity, and raising awareness of Asian hate and empowering AAPI communities within the running space (and the world). We're so grateful for her words. Read on to read the full, unedited story.
"I was born in northern New Jersey and raised in a first generation multicultural household, blending both Chinese and Japanese heritage in language, food, and mannerisms. But also, I am an American. The best way to describe me is a third culture kid, having spent summers in Japan with extended family growing up and lived in the UK for 3 years, but spending the majority of my life in the United States. Every time I move somewhere, even in the US - I pick up the best of the places I’ve experienced and introduce them into my personal traditions.
There are so many facets of identity, and there are many others like me who in different ways have intersectional identities. We are not a monolith. I’m sure like me, many others who have multiple identities have never felt enough of one or the other, or had to choose one part of their identity, overlooking the other.
Above: Mika with Bernie at London Marathon (3rd world major out of 6)
My journey into the running world started when I was in high school. From a young age, my parents always encouraged me to be able to explore all of the sports I could: swimming, riding a bike, and this really influenced my ability to have discipline in life, and cope with my thoughts/stress. But my grandmother, who was my primary caretaker growing up, wished for me to focus on academics and music instead of sports. Despite this, I wanted to try out spring track for the season, and then entered into my local town 5k. I only lasted for one season in junior year. There were so many others with far superior physical prowess than me. I was discouraged and swore off running after that.
The next time I attempted running was in my university years in Boston. Marathon Monday was known as a day of partying among students, but running along the Charles river esplanade became a weekly ritual and I soon got addicted to the scenery and solo time to think through the day. I started entering competitive races with two of my close college friends, who I still run with today.
When I started to work in New York City, my friend encouraged me to run with her after work, and we started a routine of going to run clubs and trying to make friends in these spaces. It took a lot of trial and error finding the right communities, some were not as inclusive as others - but we found our niche. I entered my first marathon, the NYC marathon and this began my journey into the pursuit of performance running, and soon running became a metaphor in striving to be the best version of myself.
Above: Mika and her coach, Jane Vongvorachoti, running together.
I’ve gone onto trying to accomplish a goal of running the world majors, and when I moved to London for a life changing opportunity, I met and found inspiration from my coach and good friend Jane Vongvorachoti (@janeruns4life) - Thai American marathoner & Olympian (former Zensah ambassador) to show me that there is no limit to what I can achieve. She has also encouraged me that my love for cultural food can still have a place in nourishing my body for performance. There is no need to forcefully assimilate eating habits based on nutritionists who deem cultural food as “unhealthy.”
Running is often described as a white man’s sport in the US/UK and many Asian American pioneers in running are overlooked (such as Miki Gorman and Toshi d’Elia), but in Japan, distance running has been around since the early 1900s, with the New Year’s Day Ekiden being one the most celebrated sporting events showcasing the best of team camaraderie. To work hard and exert your best effort, or “Ganbaru” is a culture ingrained in the Japanese part of my identity - and I translate this into working on empowering the community I represent, and towards understanding one another so we can find the parts we find collective similarity rather than differences.
Above: Mika with other O.P.A.C. members in Philadelphia
The phrase on my shirt (Love is greater than Hate) is an O.P.A.C. (@originalpropagandaathleticub) message my run family (Brodie @lionelbrodie) in Philly had put together to raise awareness of Asian hate and economically empowering AAPI communities. Together we are stronger and I’m proud to use running as not only a vehicle of self improvement but for activism and connecting people to find belonging. "