/ Updated  / Source: NBC News
By Ana Banegas

My alarm went off at 5:45am – not the most pleasant time to wake up on a Sunday morning. Today’s goal is to run a New York Road Runners race in Central Park. Although it’s spring, the morning was brisk, so I layered up in leggings, a warm, half-zip sweater and a waterproof jacket. At 6:15am, I was out the door.

For the past two years, running has been an integral part of my life but I didn’t take any interest in sports until my adulthood. Although my parents were former track and field athletes, they enrolled me in swimming, deciding it was a sport that taught an essential life skill.

As an adult, running and I finally crossed paths during a breakup – go figure. Running was an accessible sport that helped me clear my thoughts and it allowed me to shift my focus from the broken relationship to breathing correctly and maintaining good form. After a couple of months and lots of soul searching, I put the past behind me, I moved on and I kept running.

We are culturally diverse and although we were born and raised in different parts of the world, we share a common denominator – many of us took on running as adults and culturally, we weren’t raised to be runners.

My running rose to a new level when I had the fortune of meeting Karen Filippi, an avid marathoner and a phenomenal friend who introduced me to Isla de Corredores (Isla NYC), a running group of strong Latinas who are building the sport within the Hispanic community. I am a proud member of Isla NYC. Our group is composed of career-driven professionals, post-graduate students and exemplary mothers who balance managing a household with a healthy lifestyle.

Isla NYC is an extension of my family. We are culturally diverse and although we were born and raised in different parts of the world, we share a common denominator – many of us took on running as adults and culturally, we weren’t raised to be runners.

From left, Ana B (Honduras), Eve May (Russia) Maria Arias (Colombia), Justine Reyes (Mexico), and Lina Baez (Dominican Republic), pose in front of cadets from Las Fuerzas Armadas de Honduras at the Carrera Ecoamistad race in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in February 2014.Courtesy of Ana Benegas

The majority of us live in neighborhoods where going for a run outdoors is uncommon. Sometimes going out for a run can come with an encouraging compliment or an obnoxious remark from a passerby.

Over time, we become accustomed to these types of scenarios and we learn to laugh things off. For instance, our relatives assume that running is causing us to lose our curves or they suggest that we should engage in leisure activities like brunch or a happy hour.

Our families and community may not fully comprehend the value that running brings into our lives but we strive to redefine the societal view of Latinos and wellness. The group lives by the saying ‘work hard, play harder’ and in addition to running, we come together to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and holidays; occasions where we feast and indulge in our country’s staple dishes such as tostones, empanadas and arroz con leche, just to name a few.

Linda Leon snuggles with her daughter after the Nike Women's Half Marathon in April 2013.Courtesy of Linda Leon

Running is the sport that unifies Isla NYC but we also run with a purpose. Last year, Isla NYC embarked on a mission trip to Honduras to participate in the 13th annual Carrera Ecomistad (eco-friendly race). All donations supported Centro Artesanal e Industrial para Ciegos (CAIPAC), an institution for the blind.

Over the course of the year, Isla de Corredores successfully raised money and donations of running apparel to benefit CAIPAC. Isla de Corredores also had the opportunity to collaborate with UNIDOS@NBCUniversal Tri-State and set up a penny drive during Hispanic Heritage month. Thanks to the penny donations, the team raised $100 toward the mission trip.

Since the trip to Honduras, Isla NYC has traveled on mission trips to Haiti and recently raised $250 during the fourth annual Rafi’s Run, a fun run honoring 7-year old Rafaela, who lives with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a rare genetic disease that keeps the outer layer of the skin from binding to the layers beneath. All proceeds of the run went to the Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association of America.

Isla NYC continues to balance work, life, healthy living and social service, while redefining the cultural notion within the Hispanic community of Latinos and wellness. The team takes running and its training very seriously. While writing this article, a teammate that is actively dating, uttered “I don’t give up running or a training day to go out on a date!” To some that statement might seem extreme but shows that running and wellness are a part of our lifestyles and no exceptions are made unless the potential bachelor shares a similar interest in fitness.

Running with Isla NYC inspired me to experience a different outlook on life, one mile at a time.