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I say, heart pounding, knowing that saying this out loud meant I couldn't take it back. "I want to try out for Lehigh's cross country team.. and also I'm gay." Those two seemingly separate thoughts actually happened 3 years apart (forgive me for the dramatic liberty I took), but the flood of emotions I felt after finally saying them out loud were nearly identical. At 20, a junior in college who had never run a single competitive race in her life, I stood there declaring that I was going to try out for my college's cross country team. At 23, a newly graduated woman who had never dated another girl, I stood there declaring that's the gender I want to be with.
In all honesty, I had never really thought about the parallels between being part of the running community and being part of the LGBTQ+ community, even though they're both such big aspects of who I am as a person. But as I sit writing this, I can't seem to stop finding them.
First of all, runners are WEIRD (and I mean that in the most endearing way).
I don't exactly know what it is about the community or the type of people that are a part of it, but it always feels like you can be unapologetically yourself. And this is obviously the entire backbone of the LGBTQ+ community as well - to not only feel like you don't need to hide who your true self is, but to celebrate it. I can tell you that not being your authentic self takes a bigger toll on your mental and physical health than you may even realize.
Which brings me to my next point - that moment when you finally announce to your friends, family and the entire world who you really are and the immense weight it lifts from your shoulders. When I first came out, not only did my friends and family point out an obvious fog that had lifted, but I had some of my best months of running because all of a sudden, I wasn't carrying this fear of being my authentic self. I think a similar fear holds people back from trying to start running in general, but once you get over that initial fear, you realize how amazing it can be and that it doesn't matter how fast or how far you go.
I think when you first get exposed to both the running and the LGBTQ+ community, it becomes somewhat of an addiction. How could it not? Both communities and the individuals that make it up are so energetic, so welcoming, so supportive, and so willing to become a lifelong friend. I have met some of the most genuine and incredible humans through running, whether they're a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally.
As we celebrate pride this month (and every month), I want to send a message to those out there that haven't yet felt empowered to be their authentic self:
It's okay to be gay. It's okay to be trans. It's okay to be unique. It's okay to be YOU.
For me, I acknowledge that being gay has always been a non-issue, not only with my friends, family and co-workers, but in general in the communities that I am exposed to. When I set out for a run, I don't fear that someone is going to think I'm running from a crime I just committed, I don't fear that someone is going to see me coming and cross the road because they're afraid to get too close, I don't avoid certain neighborhoods out of fear that people are going to think I must be up to no good because I don't appear to belong. The other day, I twisted my ankle in the middle of a run and as I sat in this wealthy neighborhood waiting for my partner to pick me up, I couldn't help but feel the privilege that as cars passed by, they didn't think twice about whether I belonged there or whether they should call the cops.
Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, don't have that privilege.
Pride month has become a celebration, and celebrate you should, but I want you all to remember that the first pride was a riot, led by Black trans women with the purpose of forcing much needed change. Here we are in 2020 fighting for a long overdue cause. I am still learning, and I acknowledge that I'm going to make mistakes. But I commit to continue showing up, and I hope the running community as a whole continues to show up.
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