‘Finding Strong’ uncovers transcendent themes in running

A community is always stronger than an individual. That's the message filmmaker and photographer Brian Vernor says resonates most from his new short documentary, "Finding Strong." "The goals of the community are more important than the goals of the individual," he says.

The film, a collaboration with shoemaker Saucony and Runner's World magazine that uses the sport of running as a vehicle to talk about community, was shot in far corners of the planet. Despite the varied locations, one theme rang true in New York, Djibouti, Brazil, Finland, and Japan: running isn't just about personal records; ultimately it's a community event that can inspire and transform lives.

"Finding Strong" recently premiered in New York. Special screenings will take place around the country before the film makes its web debut in early 2014. Vernor, a lifetime athlete who grew up surfing and later raced bikes, says he's been inspired to run more since making the film. He also had this to say about the messages that truly transcend the sport of running in "Finding Strong":

Some runners in Ali Sabieh, Djibouti, where "Finding Strong" delved into the communal aspects of running

Some runners in Ali Sabieh, Djibouti, where “Finding Strong” delved into the communal aspects of running; all photos courtesy of Brian Vernor

What inspired the "Finding Strong" project?

After [Hurricane] Sandy last year and the cancellation of New York City Marathon, Saucony, Runner's World, and everyone in New York that week saw a lot of runners looking for ways to help. There were also a lot of gatherings, loosely organized runs, meet-ups, and simply a coming together of the running community. It inspired thoughts about the running community and how running could be seen in different ways. Maybe less of what we're used to with the fitness mindset and the pursuit of personal records. I personally see running as very beautiful and simple, and wanted to add that to the film. Everyone looks interesting running, not just professional athletes.

What was your most profound moment during filming?

Seeing the contrast between the harshness of life in Djibouti and the ecstatic joy the girls there feel when running with their friends. The Girls Run 2 team formed to give girls an opportunity to run in a part of the world that has little emphasis on women's athletics. The result is that the girls have found a space to be girls, just kids, to form friendships and compete. Now they see themselves having a value that otherwise they didn't believe they had. Simply experiencing Mt. Fuji was another profound experience. The race held there is almost a spiritual pursuit.

Finnish runner Marten Bostrom in "Finding Strong"

Finnish runner Marten Bostrom in “Finding Strong”

How did "Finding Strong" change your view of running?

It certainly opened my eyes to the depth of community that exists with runners all over the world. In every place I went, the running communities were strong and supportive, and served as the platform for people to reimagine their own understanding of what is possible in their lives. That to me is much more important than running itself.

The Djibouti girls in "Finding Strong" have found a new sense of self through running

The Djiboutian girls in “Finding Strong” have found a new sense of self through running

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