What do you picture when thinking of an American world champion mountain runner? 4:15 AM wake-ups, chugging raw eggs, and running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art? That might be the case for some endurance athletes, but not for the 20 time USA National Champion, Joseph Gray.
Mornings are spontaneous, in the sense that Gray doesn’t always know if a vexatious ring will pull him from his sleep or if his kids will beat the alarm. Days are typical, in the sense that he hardly ever misses the opportunity to lovingly kiss his wife good morning; or play with his son, Isaiah, and daughter, Leila, until nothing but infectious giggles fill the air.
Yet, they’re atypical when it comes time to go to work. Gray doesn’t exactly throw on a suit and head to the office, rather he laces up his Zinal Hokas, finds a trailhead, and clocks in.
Since 2007 Gray has been running around the world. From the United States to various parts of Europe and Asia, Gray has experienced different cultures, eaten local foods, and a majority of the time, done so after reaching the top of a podium.
To date, he’s won: 20 USA National Championships, 9 World Championship Titles, represented Team USA 33 times across multiple disciplines, and has set multiple Fastest Known Time records; including the 20 mile, 4,500 elevation gain Enchantment Lakes Traverse in Washington, and Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert.
Though Gray has and continues to experience an insane amount of support on and off the running trails, he didn’t always feel like he belonged in the running scene. Was he talented? Sure. But there weren’t many other black athletes being acknowledged nor sponsored in the trail running space. Gray knew he had to utilize his resources to help pave the way for other black athletes to be seen. Alongside setting world records, winning various titles, and running thousands of miles, Gray had a new goal in mind; to make the trail running community a more inclusive space.
In 2018, Gray started Project Inspire Diversity, a project he created with support from his sponsors to uplift young athletes of color in his community. Whether that included running tips, words of motivation, or a brand new pair of Hokas, Gray’s goal with Project Inspire Diversity was to show local youth that anything was possible while motivating them to keep chasing their dreams. No matter how out of reach they may seem.
“I remember when I was younger, the idea really started from a guy giving me a pair of shoes when I was really struggling with the sport. Struggling with feeling like I was the black sheep, no one really looking like me, and my community not really being into this type of sport. When he gave me the shoes all of that disappeared for a while and I got super motivated and excited to have a sport. I’m hoping to kind of repaint that same picture for these kids in their lives and help them chase their dreams and create their own stories.”
Aside from helping his local community, what keeps Joseph Gray motivated? The simple things in life.
Every day he wakes up grateful for his health, that of his family, and for his ability to give back to others. Gray is known so well for his undoubted ability as a long-distance mountain runner but the things that keep him going have nothing to do with his success. He’s a loving husband and father, a devout anti-doping advocate, and a die-hard foodie. Sure, he too has his bad days but there’s nothing a fresh gnocchi al quattro formaggi can’t fix.
Although a lot is in store for Gray in 2022, this summer will take the win for most exciting as he takes his kids on their first camping trip and introduces them to some of his favorite trails in Colorado.
To stay posted on Joseph's next races and projects with Project Inspire Diversity follow him on Instagram at @joegeezi