Urban Sportsmen

Grass-root initiatives for city dwellers who can't sit still

Text by Elle Hankinson

Photography by David Shama

The key legacy promised for this summer's Olympics is to increase sports participation throughout the country. It has inevitably entered the topic of conversations in pubs across the land but in tough economic times, costly gym memberships can be prohibitive. However, a trend has recently emerged offering genuine grass-root alternatives to conventional exercise classes, and these are springing up in public spaces across London. They are not just about getting fit for free; instead, they represent a growing social movement that recognises the power sports has to encourage and inspire people.

Take Run Dem Crew - the running club that claims not to be a running club but, rather, a growing family of dedicated enthusiasts. It is led by poet, teacher and DJ, Charlie Dark, formerly of Attica Blues and black culture organisation Blacktronica. Dark founded Run Dem Crew in 2007 with an aim to unite the "mass of young creative people" he had met through teaching. RDC strongly emphasises community values with respect embedded throughout.

Affectionately known as Papa Run, Dark also mentors the RDC Youngers for Nike's Run To The Beat half marathon. A group of 20 selected 16 to 24-year-olds are trained "from sofa to finish line" over the course of 16 weeks. The project intends to provide them with the "tools to change their lives through sport and creativity". Dark believes that "if you can run a distance that you've only ever driven, imagined or ridden on a bus, you can achieve anything you want in life".

The Spartan Fam Team is run by Chaka Clarke, a 24-year-old, ex-soldier who served in Iraq. He campaigns for young Londoners to take up bodyweight training and join, "an army of ambassadors to inspire others". Initiated by a colleague's tragic death last summer - the two were training in a park when his friend was shot - Clarke is determined to help improve the lives of young people. Shortly after his friend's death, he moved from Leeds to London believing that "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere".

Clarke now hosts free classes in public parks and uploads regular demo videos, allowing anyone to follow his workout sessions. His YouTube channel has already received more than 20,000 hits. Recognising the pulling power of a famous face, Clarke likes to persuade his celebrity clients, including grime MCs and TV personalities, to feature in the videos.

Clarke sees "fitness as a freedom", an escape from everyday drama and an opportunity to regain focus.

Dark and Clarke possess all the right elements to increase their following. They are clued in with the underground music scene, have the latest trainers, and boast the necessary skills to motivate those looking to change their ways. If, as sports officials believe, this year's Olympics will popularise sport throughout the UK, then Run Dem Crew and Spartan Fam are successfully democratising it in the heart of the host city. 



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