When Dione Mason was recognized as the Canfitpro Fitness Professional of the Year in 2017, she became the first Black woman to ever receive the award. She followed that up two years later, receiving the Canfitpro New Presenter of the Year award, again as the first Black woman to earn the honor.
Mason is not only an award-winning fitness and health professional and presenter, but she is also Canada’s first Black female race director (she started the Toronto Carnival Run in 2016). Given this impressive résumé, it may be surprising to hear that her first reaction to her suggestion to run a 10K race was, “Why would I want to do that?!”
It was about 15 years ago that Mason came to running, through what she calls “positive peer pressure.” When her then colleagues suggested signing up for a race as a team-building activity, she registered, went through the training (which she describes as “gruelling”), and completed the run.
Not having come from a running background, she was struck by the feeling of accomplishment and the sense of community she experienced that day. But she was also struck by how few faces she saw that looked like hers. She remembers first thinking, “Not too many Black people– where are they?” she followed quickly by, “What can I do to motivate other people who look like me to do this?”
Mason went on to found the Toronto Carnival Run, a fully accredited and sanctioned race, which is also Canada’s first and only Caribbean-inspired running/walking event. The event is not only about encouraging health and fitness, but also about celebrating cultural diversity. Mason’s vision for it was to “uplift, inspire and motivate people toward positive lifestyle changes by creating a fun running experience.”
The race is a welcoming and family-friendly event with a 1K kids’ run and 5K and 10K options. Runners and run/walkers of all ages and abilities are welcome. The run has grown from 150 participants in its first year to more than 700 expected this year. The event encourages healthy living and brings the community together to celebrate cultural diversity.
The Carnival Run is in support of The Simunye Foundation, which was also founded by Mason. According to the not-for-profit’s website, its purpose is to “unite, empower and enlighten the Afro-Caribbean community toward positive lifestyle changes through individual health and wellness promotion, career and business development, and arts and cultural support.”
Mason explains that the foundation’s long-term goal is to build an arts and cultural center that will “speak to the history and excellence of the Black community in Canada.”
Mason credits her uniqueness as a race director in bringing a different perspective. Her experience informs her efforts to create a welcoming space and to offer opportunities to those who might otherwise be overlooked. As she plans the event, “whether it’s hiring contractors, organizing timing, or sourcing T-shirts, I seek out Black businesses that may not otherwise have the exposure,” she says.
Mason does 90 percent of the planning for the Carnival Race on her own, which, together with working and attending university (she is studying psychology at the University of Toronto), can lead to her sometimes feeling overwhelmed. “When I’m feeling like I just don’t know how I can do this,” she says, “I think about the long-term effect I’m having on people.” She is motivated by all the testimonial stories people have shared with her about overcoming obstacles in their lives, thanks partly to her new-found physical confidence. “These are the stories that motivate me to keep going,” she says.
Mason is guided and driven by the simple daily goals of improving someone else’s life and bringing more joy to the world. “My intention from the beginning has always been helping people experience the best in life,” she says. She points out that her corner of what just happens to be health and fitness, but that everyone has something to contribute. When all is said and done, she says, “I want to feel like I’ve paid my rent on this earth.”
For more information on the Toronto Carnival Run or to sign up, click here.
Under Armor has teamed up with canadian running to produce the Under Armor Diversity Series—an exclusive feature content series designed to highlight and promote individuals and organizations who have demonstrated a commitment to grow the sport of running, support those who are underrepresented and help others. The series features stories and podcasts highlighting these extraordinary Canadians who are making a difference in their communities and on the national running scene.