Meet the runners who diversify outdoor sports
It’s easy to assume that outdoor sports like trail running are more accessible than most because they take place in shared open spaces, usually require little financial investment to get started, few subscriptions or memberships and equipment that is not out of the ordinary.
But those from marginalized groups, such as people of color and the LGBTQ + community, open up about their experiences in outdoor sports, where they see few people who look like them, and say they often feel like they are that this is not the case. a space in which they are welcome.
There are people who want to change that experience, however, and since a few of them are professional runners, they are paving a way that could leave a lasting impression on the running landscape.
Korea Woltering, one of the top long distance runners in the United States, is a professional trail runner and ultrarunner from Ottowa, Illinois. He is passionate about showing that outdoor sports are for everyone and that no one should encounter obstacles to participate in nature’s playground.
“I’m openly gay and I’m black,” he told ESPN, “and my big thing is [to get] more people of color on the outside, more LGBTQ + people on the outside.
“The outdoors hasn’t always been a safe place for people of color or the LGBTQ + community.”
Woltering discovered running by accident after moving to Boulder, Colo., While aiming to become a professional in triathlon. He ran into a group of trail runners and mountain bikers who would take him on the trails. He got hooked and quickly learned the ropes ultra-distance running, putting aside the triathlon in stride.
Woltering quickly made strides with his improving results, but was aware that among the offroad racing community there were few people who looked like him and few brands using people of color in their advertising.
He says, “In 2017-18, a magazine wanted to do an article about what it’s like to be black and gay in the sport of ultra-running, and I was like, ‘Hey, this story has already been told, I have done podcasts and articles about it. But what I’d like to talk about is like the lack of sponsorship for Midwestern runners. ‘
This region of the United States is flat compared to the mountainous regions of the western and northern United States, and runners in the Midwest often have to relocate to more mountainous terrain. Woltering made history, brands noticed him, and he was approached by more sponsors and signed with The North Face.
He wasn’t publicly out when he started running ultra, and he wasn’t sure what the reaction would be.
He added: “I didn’t necessarily want to go out, because I was trying to get into the sport that I really didn’t know a ton of people in. And I didn’t really know any other ultra professional black people either. runners, and I didn’t know any overtly gay ultra runners at the time.
“[But] I thought [if] the trail was announced as being open, there would have been others [who were gay]. And so it was just a decision I had to make. “
There are indeed other trail runners who are gay, and some have had rather difficult experiences. Ryan Montgomery is an openly queer ultra runner and tries to “move the needle” on the inclusion of people from the LGBTQ + community in sport.
Montgomery, who now lives in Park City, Utah, grew up in a religious community, and when he was younger and accepted his sexuality, he says he was often told he was “less of a person” because he was gay. .
Running has become his outlet to channel emotional disturbances and to learn more about himself.
“It’s my way of dealing with trauma, worries … I feel like I solve the world’s problems in my races. So it was a huge avenue to deal with my life, and if I don’t. ‘hadn’t, I don’t know where I would be today, “he told ESPN.
But, Montgomery says he heard, ‘Why is this guy with painted nails walking past me?’ or the like of other runners, and feels that being visibly odd leaves him exposed to harassment.
From then on, out of habit, whenever he passed someone, he covered his fingernails. He says he introduces himself as a straight man while running to avoid any conflict.
He adds: “I have a friend who is a transgender woman and she told me that she sometimes presents herself as a man when she is trail running because she doesn’t know who she is going to meet.
“In some of these small communities that she lives in, she doesn’t feel safe running at night because she doesn’t know if people have even had experience with a trans person. had several times she experienced insults against her like, “Why does this person look weird?”
“All of these things add up to make the exterior very white, very dangerous to [LGBTQ+] people, and it perpetuates that stigma. “
With this understanding, Montgomery goes through the discomfort of opening up about himself, telling his story regularly, helping others who might face similar challenges, and helping to make the trail running community more inclusive. .
“I feel like I have to give that same autonomy to other people who might not have it. And when you realize this problem that we have, this concern in our outdoor sport, I have this responsibility to move it. ‘needle on that concern, and I know what to do,’ he said.
“I look outside and I see how white it is, I see how straight it is. I see how there are so many barriers to entry for people like me, like our black friends, people of color – it makes me excited to share the same experience with other marginalized people. “
There is little data on the number of people who trail run, let alone the breakdown of the data to determine the number of blacks or minority people in the sport. Black trail runners (BTR), a UK-based registered charity, is changing that, and its mission is to create an environment in which everyone can thrive, and hope that one day BTR will no longer be necessary.
The group, which launched in July 2020, came together after individual members were frustrated by the lack of like-minded people in the sport.
“It is not often and not ‘normal’ to meet blacks who do trail running”, Sabrina Pace Humphreys, one of the group’s six co-founders, told ESPN.
“I think when you are a black person operating professionally or personally in an environment where there are no other people like you, over the years it normalizes and you accept that when you go to races or at boot camps, events that are about celebrating the outdoors and nature, that you won’t see anyone like you. “
The group wrote to race organizers in the UK to add an ethnicity field to their entry forms so that over time data could be collected and measured. However, not all runners participate in official events, making the data hard to take at face value.
They are now consulting brands to foster awareness of performance and leading initiatives to teach nutrition, as well as outdoor skills on boating and equipment, as the lack of knowledge in these areas has proven to be a problem. obstacle.
Many black communities have historically been urbanized and have lived in towns where the countryside is not as accessible, such as the post-UKWindrush Generation.
Pace-Humphreys says, “With that comes a subtle message that the campaign is not for you … Culturally speaking, growing up generationally, not having access to it because it’s not something you your family does, or you don’t have the financial means to travel in these spaces, to stay in these spaces.
“These initiatives show that there is a demand. Black people want to experience the outdoors, they want to experience trail running. They just want a space to do what they want to feel safe in, held and a sense of community … they won’t be sidelined, put in a closet, scoffed at in terms of “Oh, is this really a place for you?” “
Road and track racing has a higher number of black runners, especially at the elite level. For the masses in urban areas, putting on sneakers and running in the streets is much more accessible to everyone, but it is also not without problems, of course.
But it is off-road, where running blacks are seen as a threat, that it bothers the most.
Pace-Humphreys adds: “It’s all in the actions, it’s in the looks, it’s in me as a 43 year old Métis woman running in the woods and people are physically jumping like I’m going to steal them. . All I do is run.
“These things, time and time again, they make you think, ‘I’m not going to run over there anymore’ or ‘How can I make myself look less threatening?’
“I’m a 43 year old woman, imagine what that is for a young black man.”
Woltering says the focus should be on youth access, which could be the change that breaks down barriers and for minorities: I think it’s going to change the dynamics of the outdoors.
“We must not push the ultra[marathons] on youngsters, but we can say, “Hey, there are some short trail runs that you can do in the summer, fun things like that to expose them to what can then lead to ultras.
“It’s super important to show that yes, there are other people out there who look like you, who are active, who play non-traditional sports like running, mountain biking or climbing. .
“When I was young you never saw that. If you looked at an outdoor ad it was a group of white people sitting around a campfire or white people hiking and now I’m really happy to see they are [brands] show more diversity. “