Meet the Woman Bringing LA Together to Save a Track
It’s often said that big cities lack community. Within a sprawling metropolis such as Los Angeles, or amid the gridlocked chaos and subway crush of New York City, people become faceless and selfish. We stand in lines or on public transport with our heads buried in devices (what’s up to everyone reading this article right now); we hold doors open just long enough for us to squeeze through, with little regard for those behind us; and when we get behind the wheel we descend into caricatures of all of our worst qualities: exaggerated, futile, and comical.
But what is community? We think of it in the traditional sense of belonging to small towns, where people know and look out for each other in times of need, where they celebrate each other’s wins and show up at pivotal moments in their lives. Communities are where families are raised, where people grow in both the literal and figurative sense. They’re a support network.
But all of those things can be true in cities, too. And that’s where Chloe Towns comes in.
Towns is an LA local, currently at grad school at Pepperdine where she’s finishing her master’s degree. She’s also deeply involved in the local running scene and is – as you’re about to find out – a dreamer, a doer and the type of leader that every community could use. But before we get to that, we need to talk about why we’re here.
LA Saves Track is a social project with a simple mission: to raise a million dollars (A$1,450,000) to restore and rebuild the athletics track at Los Angeles High School. (The project originally aimed to raise $250,000 but increased this to $500,000 before raising the financial goal again to a number that is closer to the actual figure needed for the work.)
Why LA High School? As the project’s website explains, this disadvantaged school has a graduation rate of less than 50%, two thirds of students are eligible for federal assistance through the Title 1 program, and reading and maths proficiency is well behind the national average. But every one of those students deserves the opportunity to prosper in life, and LA Saves Track aims to make that happen.
“A track should be a community good. But in LA that isn’t the case. Many tracks are closed to the public, even though the public would love them … [But at LA High School] every morning, community members are walking and running around the track.”
LA Saves Track was born out of Towns’ association with Aaron LaRue, who runs LaRue’s Crew and had been working with LA High on a 10-year plan to fundraise for an athletics track.
“When I met Aaron, I fell in love with his work and wanted to be of bigger support. During the pandemic, Sean Watson was looking for someone ambitious to take on a larger fundraising campaign that would help test Questify, his new fundraising platform. I immediately thought of LaRue's Crew and asked Aaron whether he'd be game to take his 10-year goal and test it on this platform. From there was born LA Saves Track.”
It’s worth pointing out here that we don’t have the pixels to adequately convey the amount of work Aaron LaRue has done for LA High. From donating shoes to providing nutrition and helping train the athletes, LaRue has been hands-on for years – and that won’t stop when this project reaches its conclusion.
A lot has happened since the official launch of LA Saves Track, which was only in October 2021. In that time, Towns has hosted, coordinated, or assisted on over 35 events ranging from major activations to grass roots initiatives, and to date the project has raised almost $100,000. Support has also come from several brands in the running space, but Towns makes it clear that the brands involved are involved not for a positive PR piece but because they really want to help.
“We’ve had the fortune of support from larger brands like Hoka, lululemon, adidas, and Goodr along with local brands like Sound Running, Sauri, So Close So Far, and UNSNCTND. As of now, our most shocking donation was a $12,400 donation from Brooks followed by an additional $2,000. There was no ask in return. They simply wanted to help because they saw the impact this would have on the future of LA runners. That's when I feel like a brand gets it.
“I'm not sure if this counts as a brand but Take The Bridge has also been a huge ally to our cause. They've done two races for LA Saves Track and in total have raised about $7,000 for us which is one of our top donations from a single entity. Again, they helped us – Darcy helped us – because she gives a shit about the cause and not about the notoriety.”
The funds raised are going toward improving a local community, not just for now but for future generations. LA High School is the oldest public high school in Southern California – it has had a dirt athletics track since its founding in 1873. The school can’t afford to maintain the track, let alone upgrade it. There are no lights or even chalk lane markings. As a result of these and other deficiencies in the facility, they can’t host athletics meets (and haven’t since 2014), which has a knock-on effect for more than just the athletics students, as Towns explains.
“If there’s a track, that means there can be track meets. If there are meets, that means there can be concessions. Concessions raise money for all sports and after-school activities.”
And it’s not just aspiring sprinters who will benefit from new facilities. Towns says the local track is a hub for the wider community as well.
“A track should be a community good. But in LA that isn’t the case. Many tracks are closed to the public, even though the public would love them. The assistant principal of LA High, Iheanyi Nkwocha, recounts how, every morning, community members are walking and running around the track. Especially in the pandemic, when you couldn’t exercise indoors, there were members of the community hopping the fence onto the track to exercise.”
The flow on effects for the community of a well-maintained exercise facility are many. Aside from the obvious ones around giving kids an opportunity to pursue sports and challenge themselves, for older populations the benefits can be enormous. Being physically active helps prevent some diseases, promotes better cognitive function, reduces the likelihood of falls and has a huge impact on mental health.
As Towns points out to me, the LA run scene can, at times, be one big community but, equally, it can be fragmented – people are fanatical about their crew associations and often will stay in their pocket rather than mingle with other groups. But LA Saves Track has brought the LA run community together on several occasions through different events and sees individuals from all around LA doing different things to raise money.
One of those people is Dani Chong, who recently summited Mount Whitney – the highest mountain peak in the contiguous USA at 14,505 feet (4,421 metres) – to raise money for the project. I asked Chong what compelled her to take on such a feat for LA Saves Track.
“I wanted to fundraise for LA Saves Track after meeting Chloe at a local trail race that was benefiting the cause. She spoke so passionately about the students it would benefit and the big-picture plans. Chloe has an infectious energy and spoke in a way that fired me up!
“I myself attended a Southern California high school that also lacked a track and a full sports facility.
“I found sports again as an adult and it’s shaped who I’ve become as a person. I also come from a family of educators, so the connection and impact of physical activities to academics was a familiar topic.”
At the time of writing, Chong’s summit of Mount Whitney has raised over $1,600 for LA Saves Track. These sort of individual fundraising efforts are crucial to the project, as Towns explains.
“Community members’ fundraising efforts mean so much more than a couple grand for the cause, because they have to work so much harder to get that money than a brand with an allocated budget. Their work is a reminder to brands, journals and those in question that people really care about what we are doing and will help however they can.
“On top of that, the personal outreach of the individual taps us into new communities who have new connections for us to work with.”
Like Dani Chong, Anton Saleh runs with Good Vibes Track Club, based in the Crenshaw District in South Central LA. It’s a crew that has grown exponentially in the last three years under the leadership of Marvin Garcia and has a strong emphasis on guiding the local community to a healthier, more active lifestyle.
Saleh has seen Towns’ work at LA Saves Track up close, after having met her in August 2021 and witnessing her passion at several events in the LA community.
“I’ve truly never met anyone with such a combination of determination and will … She’s ‘on it’ 100% of the time and that can be seen with the work she’s done in the community.
“It’s been really awesome to see people get involved and get excited about giving back to the community.”
Community is not tied to a physical location or landmark. Community is a spirit, and it’s one that is carried forward by individuals – by leaders. These are the people who have the rare ability to inspire, whether that’s through setting an example or by getting people to share your dream.
Chloe Towns is a great example of a leader – diving headfirst into a lofty project, she’s fostering community in a place where it’s not always obvious. (To be clear, Chloe is reluctant to take credit for her work and wants to stress that she hasn’t done this alone.)
Yet she embodies a community spirit others have gladly joined cause with. And spirit can be an intangible thing. No one owns it and, where a need arises, a leader often emerges who can take on the role of bringing people together. That’s amazing, when you think about it. But here’s what’s even more amazing – just as that community spirit manifests in a leader, that leader will likely go on to inspire and shape other leaders who follow behind her.
And as much as I love a good athletics track, that could turn out to be an even bigger accomplishment in this project. As a community grows around LA High School, and as LA saves that one track, that track might in turn give something even more precious back in return: community itself.