Lionel Brahim Brodie III a runner, academic thinker, and entrepreneurial proactivist. Looking to create an inclusive running fellowship, he founded Original Propaganda Athletic Club or O.P.A.C. As the anti-running club running club, O.P.A.C. instead aims to be a comprehensive and welcoming running movement. Brodie himself, a disruptive, trend setting, fashion-forward thought leader, has established the group to welcome athletes of every caliber with open arms (and open hearts): “Whether you are fast as f4%k or slow as s#!t … it’s all love!” Brodie’s individual, creative, and welcoming spirit pervades everything the O.P.A.C. group does and stands for. From starting his journey with running on a drunken dare to becoming a part of Philadelphia’s cultural fabric through events, activism, and community, Brodie has changed the texture of his community and the running community as whole with O.P.A.C and his positivity. One of the reasons we love O.P.A.C. is because of its mission of refreshing inclusivity, which is so important and so needed in this sport. As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month of this year, 2022, we were honored to be able to get some insights from Brodie all things O.P.A.C., why runners should be more kind to themselves, and why he won’t define his limitless because… well… it’s limitless.
ZS: Now tell us a little bit about O.P.A.C., its mission, and why you founded it?
LBB III: Original Propaganda Athletic Club is one of the most diverse athletic clubs in the country. People of different ages, races, sexual orientations, gender identifications, skill levels, etcetera…..ALL EQUAL! A huge part of our Mission Statement is “to foster an elite, equally competitive environment.” Simply put: ALL FACES, ALL PACES. When declared, it is more than a cliché. It is a belief, principle, law, and edict. Here a walker gets the same respect as an Olympic Trials Qualifier. We have both in our Family. We are growing this glorious Sport and success relies on Comprehensive Inclusivity. Speed is a beautiful language, and at times there are communication barriers that need to be broken down. That is what we do at O.P.A.C.
ZS: What is one thing you want people to know about you/ about O.P.A.C.?
LBB III: We are a Family, not a group, crew, or club. Not-as-fast runners not intimidated by their faster counterparts, but rather motivated by them. Fast runners not frustrated with their not-as-fast counterparts, but inspired by them. A community where we equivalently cheer the Couch-To-5Ker with the same fervor that we do the Seasoned Marathoner. Athletes of ALL FACES AND PACES coexisting in a “Equally Competitive” environment.
ZS: How is O.P.A.C. redefining the traditional classification of an elite athlete? Why?
LBB III: This could be unpopular among run purists, but “elite” in Running seems to be defined solely by speed. Running, in its most organic form, is distance x speed. That is part of its beauty, the simplicity of it. The other part is, when participating in a race, we all compete on the same sports ground simultaneously. Yes there are different corrals, which are necessary for safety, organization, and enjoyment. But the person who finished last at the most recent Tokyo Marathon can legitimately state that they ran the same race as Eliud Kipchoge, on the same day, at the same time.
Some of us as the human race are averse to change. Is a not-as-fast runner who is disciplined with nutrition, training, running, and equipment not also elite? Person A works just as hard, does the exact same things as Professional B…..but is light years slower. Professional B is “elite.” What is Person A? “Recreational,” simply because of time/speed? Maybe.
The rallying cry for Running is “trying to grow the sport.” At times, and this is solely my opinion, when said it sounds like food manufacturers proclaiming there is no MSG in a product, or no trans-fat. Sure, it sounds good on the surface. But try to sustain a diet based heavily on potato chips…..how healthy would that be? So we are trying to grow Running by self-segregating runners into predetermined labeled groups probably created by “elites” to keep themselves “elite.”
That being said, we are not going to change these titles in my lifetime. And maybe we shouldn’t. Going by the binary tenets of Running, there is a difference between myself and Christian Coleman…..in title. I 1500% get that! What we do at O.P.A.C., however, is treat EVERYONE as elite. We as a whole do not pay dues and exist to support the dreams of a few. We strive, network, outreach, and build to all have an equal, Olympic-level experience with resources, funding, support, exposure, etcetera. Every goal is important, every race is a major, every runner is working towards elite.
LBB III: I started running on a drunken dare of sorts. I was in Arlington, VA on a business trip and in the midst of being overserved vodka/tonics by the hotel bartender, I told a co-worker, who happened to be a marathoner, that I would join her on her run the next morning. I legitimately assumed she would forget so I felt REAL strong in my pledge. Wrong. The next morning, January 22, 2011, she knocked on my door and forced me to face my apprehensions. We attacked the streets Georgetown and after 1.5 miles of continuous running, that euphoria…..I have been addicted to and chasing it ever since.
I love Running because you have to be super engaged in the process. It is so mental, and I love to challenge myself mentally almost as much as physically. Am I wearing too much, am I wearing too little? Am I running too fast, am I not running fast enough? You are chasing the sun in the winter, swerving the sun in the summer. Running makes me push myself more than I ever had to push myself - mentally or physically - period.
I wake up with rhinoceros vision and snake hearing. A love for acidic foods and gluten. My doctor forbids acidic foods and gluten. A left shoulder secured by thread. A stomach that cannot at times tell if it is hungry, bloated, or nauseous. Pepper grinders for knees. Two Towers of Pisa for ankles. And because of these BLESSINGS…..I run. On treadmills, sidewalks, streets, and trails. In 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and 1 day, a marathon. Because some say I should not and most think I cannot. I run because I can. I run to overcome.
ZS: One word that O.P.A.C. uses to describe the way it brings runners together is fellowship. Can you expand on how O.P.A.C. is cultivating fellowship amongst runners and in the running community?
LBB III:Fellowship to O.P.A.C. is ‘Family.’ There are groups, crews, and clubs where the only thread is speed and distance. Are you fast? Because it is fast or nothing. When is your next marathon? Because if you are not a marathoner you are not a runner. If those answers are no and never, goodbye. We all want to be faster. We all want to run farther. But what is beneath the surface? What happens when the times and endurance fade? Does our connection? Not if that connection is based on the person and not their performance.
We are not forcing friendships here; this is not a kindergarten class. But we are also not establishing our relationships on your running resume. Let’s build as people, as Family, and that way we better help each other accomplish those athletic goals. I find you compete better with Family Members than you do with “associates with numbers.”
ZS: May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we’re focusing on the immense importance of mental health for life. How does mental health affect you?
LBB III: I wake up most days with a decent equilibrium between my anxiety and my reality. That is one giant leap for me because the seemingly small step of actually falling asleep avoided me for some time. Through faith, family, friends, and therapy (couldn’t think of an ‘f’ word here to continue the alliteration), I have been able to overcome some of the internal battles that I still have with myself. And on days I cannot overcome, I know that the battles are temporary.
Mental health, like physical health, is different for everyone. Same as a fingerprint or a snowflake, these exercises are unique to each person. For some of us, mental wellbeing comes easy. That friend who never trains, eats whatever, throws on a pair of work boots and rips 6-minute miles without sweating. For some of us, that cerebral vigor takes practice, failure, patience, practice, practice, patience, failure, practice, etcetera. A personal coach, itemized training plan, regulated meal prep, the latest super shoe and you 6-minute-mile friend has lapped you on the track. The positive take is that the more aware we all are about the importance of mental health, and maybe more importantly, the more action steps that we are willing to take to achieve it, the better our society can become.
ZS: How do you feel balanced?
LBB III: Trick question? I am lucky to work for a company that provides a laptop and cellular phone. I work from home and set my own hours. The aforementioned enables me to disconnect when needed. I work in Athletics, and in today’s “hustle culture” there are some in my industry, and others obviously, who feel the need to always be dialed in. Not I, and I am blessed to have the ability to separate church and state when needed. In my personal life, I am not quite sure. I tend to say that “I can’t turn my brain off” …..so even when I am watching television and “relaxing” I am still creating tasks and to-do-lists. Balance is a work in progress for me if I am being completely transparent.
ZS: What can runners/ the running community do to improve its relationship with/awareness of mental health in general?
LBB III: I am no expert, but we need to be kind to ourselves. Most of us are in constant pursuit of longer distances and faster times. An increase in repetitions married to an upturn in strength. But we are human, and both Mother Nature and Father Time are undefeated. We all become tired, grow older, and have less-than desirable performances. I am not advocating complacency or quitting. But be kind to yourself. None of us will ever be perfect, so to pursue perfection, albeit challenging and fun, is a bottomless endeavor. When we are tired, hurt, injured, or just not that into it…..be kind to yourself.
And others. There are some of us who are using running to decompress, to escape, and to cope. The external pressures to be fitter and faster are everywhere. Sometimes they begin internally. We should understand that most of us have different journeys, even if we are traveling to the same place. We can compete. I mean all caps COMPETE. But be cognizant of the words and language we use. Because your ‘trash’ run might be another’s PR.
ZS: What is one quote you live by? Or a personal mantra? (can apply to running or life!)
LBB III: “Overcome.” Part of my mental health journey is striving to be less focused on the negative. I find it extremely easy to see the glass as half empty. In a way, it gives me an edge because I do not know how to rest on my laurels. There is always a challenge, always a chance to get better, always a moment to overachieve. Maybe I have inherited the Philadelphia family treasure of “underdog.” It might be justified. It might be fabricated. But the need and will to overcome…..it is tiring at times, but I have accomplished so much with it. To overcome is also to be a work in progress.
ZS: What is your favorite place you’ve ever ran? In Philly or in general!
LBB III: I love Boathouse Row in Philadelphia. But my favorite place to run is on Market, Chestnut, and/or Walnut Streets in Philly, in between 5th and 6th Streets. From those vantage points you are warmly embraced by Independence Hall. The United States of America was born here (Declaration Of Independence), and The Constitution was adopted here. I am a HUGE proponent of knowing the source of something, so we can better decide on the path we are currently traveling, figuratively and literally. We know where our country was started. Now, where are we going?
ZS: What other hobbies do you love (in addition to running of course):
LBB III: Fashion. Fashion is my favorite sport, and I take it very seriously. Even when I am running, no pun intended, errands I dress so that when you see me there is a longing for you to go home and change. I am ultra-competitive with fashion. An intervention is needed.
ZS: Where can people find you and O.P.A.C.? (on social media and at upcoming races!)
LBB III: Please follow us on Instagram @originalpropagandaathleticclub // we will be represented at most races in Philadelphia, and major races throughout the country. Our weekly runs, currently, are Saturday mornings: 815a 10K run, 930a 5K run. ALL FACES, ALL PACES.
ZS: Zensah’s motto is #withoutlimitz meaning we want you to feel limitless in everything you do. We’re launching a campaign called “Limitless Looks Like This” because limitlessness can look different for every person. Limitless might look like finding balance, reaching goals, acing the race you have coming up, manifesting your future, or bringing O.P.A.C. globally. What does limitless look like for you? For O.P.A.C.?
LBB III: My limitless would be hard to define, because in a sense that limits it. Yes, I am a whole nerd haha. I have awfully specific answers to this question, but superstition and paranoia are preventing me from freely speaking until these specifics come into fruition. So I am limiting my limitless until a future time. Ask me off record haha!