Bimma Williams is as much a runner as he is a storyteller. 

Not only is he touring the West Coast with his podcast Claima Stories with Bimma (short for “claim a seat at the table”), which chronicles stories about the careers of BIPOC creatives, but Williams has also been prepping for what might be one of the most challenging runs of his life: a 199-mile relay known as Hood to Coast.  

Williams, a Portland transplant by way of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been a runner for most of his life, starting in just the third grade. Since then, he’s run a few half marathons here and there, but nothing quite like the Hood to Coast Relay, which since 1982 has seen more than 12,000 participants each year run from Mount Hood to coastal Seaside. Normally, runs and marathons don’t interest Williams. But what did interest him was the fundraising opportunity. Every year, Hood to Coast raises money to go toward Providence Cancer Institute, and this year, it's hoping to raise $700,000. After losing his father to prostate cancer a decade ago and having almost lost his mother to breast cancer, the opportunity to help fundraise for cancer research and treatment was personal.

So, along with the 11 members on his relay team, Williams set up a fundraising campaign with a simple goal: raise $1,000. He posted the campaign on Tuesday, August 12, on his Instagram while in Los Angeles, and then hopped on the I-10 and hightailed it to Phoenix, Arizona. By the time he arrived, in just under seven hours, he’d exceeded his goal by a couple hundred dollars.

“To see people respond to [the campaign] and donate in such a short amount of time was definitely super surprising, but I was also super appreciative to know that my community's listening and they're willing to support,” Williams says. “I received messages from other folks who were sharing similar stories about, you know, how cancer has impacted their family and their life, and they were just really passionate about that and [said] that's why they contributed.”

Now, Williams’s personal campaign stands at about $2,240, and collectively, his team, the NO YES Run Crew, has raised more than $8,500. Even though he’s already exceeded his personal goal, Williams still encourages people to donate because it all trickles into the team effort.

Bimma Williams with his relay crew for the Hood to Coast Relay

Training for Hood to Coast has been a months-long effort. With his team, Williams has spent most of his weekends training with five- to 10-mile long runs, speed runs at the Roosevelt High School track, and workouts that take into consideration the varying elevations and terrain expected during the relay later this month. Thrown into that mix has been the month-long podcast tour, which Williams says has thrown off his running schedule a bit.

And beyond the physical demands of a run like this, the mental preparation, too, has been challenging. “As I’ve gotten older [running has] become a great way for me to have my time in the morning to meditate and work through my thoughts and just have that space to myself,” Williams says. But some days, he says, it’s been “hard to put on the shoes.”

Not only has the unprecedented heat and shuttering pandemic made it difficult to stay mentally focused, this past year’s racial violence has made running feel “in jeopardy,” particularly after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was pursued and fatally shot while jogging in Georgia. 

“I remember when that news came out, and I got a text from my mom, probably like the next day, and she was like, ‘maybe you shouldn't go out for a run today,’ and I'm like, that is bizarre. Like, my mom's literally texting me about something that I've been doing my entire life, and she’s worried about me doing that,” Williams says. “In a way it's like reclaiming that space, too. For me to layer that against cancer and movements that I'm passionate about, I just felt like this is the time to go do it.”

Donate to Bimma Williams’s fundraising campaign here. Listen to Claima Stories with Bimma here.

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