Pansa means “belly” in Spanish, but Emmanuel Rodriguez is quick to explain that it’s not used as an insult —it’s a term of endearment.
And as one of the founders of the body-positive running club Pansa Boyz, Rodriguez — who goes by the nickname “Bodega Manny” — does, admittedly, have a belly. It’s how he and his running buddies use those bellies that’s made their group so inspiring.
“When we ran the Brooklyn Mile, one of my co-workers sent me a text like, ‘I ran [the Brooklyn Half Marathon] without a shirt because of you guys,” Rodriguez told In The Know. “He’s like, ‘I felt so uncomfortable before, but you guys made a platform for us — and I appreciate it so much.'”
That was in June of 2019. Since then, the four men have continued to flaunt their stomachs in races, making a major statement about what a “runner” looks like in the process.
“People who don’t run or don’t understand, they question our motives like, ‘You’re too big to run. You look like a football player,'” Jason Suarez, another Pansa Boyz member, told In The Know. “They’re just like, ‘Oh, you’re not really running.’ And yeah it’s gonna take me two hours longer than the person who finished [first]… but I still ran the same distance.”
And there are definitely struggles that come with that disparity. Tyrone Alomia told In The Know that being a bigger runner “isn’t always easy,” as he’s often forced to compete with people who weigh nearly 150 pounds less than him.
“Being big and being stacked up against these smaller guys, it’s hard to get a good gauge for who you are as an athlete or how you move,” Alomia, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 300 pounds, said.
But Alomia says the key is to just “keep moving.” Because for the Pansa Boyz, it’s not about how fast you finish — it’s about knowing you can be comfortable in your own skin.
“The first time I took my shirt off [in a race]… I was mortified,” Hector Espinal, the fourth Pansa Boy, told In The Know. “I was literally the biggest person in that race, and I’m about to do it without a shirt on. But I did it, and I’ve never felt more free in my life.”
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