Meet The Runners Making Space For Queer Athletes On The Trails

·4 min read

This article originally appeared on Trail Runner

This October 6-9, 2022, Out Trails and Aspire Adventure Running are hosting the first-ever trail running retreat for queer runners.

The retreat consists of three nights and two full days of running, hosted with pro athletes Ryan Montgomery and Addie Bracy. The retreat has spots for 40 runners, and ten scholarships are available (anyone interested can apply here before June 30) at the Mount Helens Science and Learning Center. The retreat is open to runners of all levels, and with the option to run between 21 and 64 miles across the weekend. Runners can relax at the lodge, share stories, meals, and build community.

"By limiting events to individuals of a specific affinity group, we are opening a space that celebrates the unique culture of these groups and creating space for human connections unique to an exclusive gathering," said Montgomery in a press release announcing the event's launch. "While specific affinity events may limit some individuals from participating, they add to a more diverse and inclusive running culture as a whole."

RELATED: Strength, Balance And Sparkle: Ryan Montgomery Preps For UTMB

Creating Space

Out Trails Founder Ryan Montgomery didn't always feel like he could be himself on the trails.

"I used to be a chameleon. But as I have become more comfortable in my own skin and in my identity, I've been sharing it with people – who I am, and what I do. I used to feel like I was wearing a disguise as a straight person," says Montgomery. "Now, I"m showing up full, colorful and expressive."

Even though the trail running community prides itself on being accepting and nonconformist, there is significant pressure to fit in, and often times for Montgomery, that meant concealing his preferences, hiding certain aspects of his personality, and not being fully open about who he was. Not only do those pressures wear on the mental health of athletes, but many queer or gender non-conforming runners often feel unsafe in the wild and rural areas where trail running takes place.

Now, Montgomery frequently sports brightly-colored clothing and painted nails, showing up proudly as his full, authentic self.

"Showing up consistently as queer, colorful, and expressive has carried over really well onto the trails. It’s helped me in my sport and in my professional athletic career to be my best self," says Montgomery.

His personal journey of self-acceptance inspired him to create the same loving, welcoming, and inclusive conditions for others to embrace their true selves on the trail.

"As I’ve become more forward in my platform, and more open about who I am, who Ryan Montgomery is. And he is a queer, gay trail runner. And since I've become more open, I've realized a lot more people identify in that same way," says Montgomery. "I wanted to create a space virtually and physically where we can be thoughtful about actually creating opportunities to gather these people together."

His personal journey of self-acceptance inspired him to create the same loving, welcoming, and inclusive conditions for others to embrace their true selves on the trail.

All Are Welcome

Runners of all levels and paces are welcome to attend. Athletes can choose from a selection of run distances and paces so that they can adventure at their own speed. There are groups for seasoned ultra-vets and run-curious hikers alike. Athletes can even tackle a full circumnavigation day of the 40-mile Loowit Trail, with over 8,000 feet of climbing around Mt. St. Helens.

"Trails, mountains, and wild spaces are a source of inspiration to runners of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, and orientations. With the increased recognition of diversity across the trail community, we are excited to support opportunities for subsets of our larger trail community to gather, celebrate, and build community through shared experiences," says Abram Dickerson, founder of Aspire Adventure Running.

While Montgomery has always felt safe on the trails, that's not every runner's experience. This retreat gives LGBTQ+ runners an opportunity to run as a group and experience challenging trails safely as a community. Then, participants can take those connections from the retreat home and into their communities.

"Success for me would be that we don't have to do these affinity trips because our community is inherently there, everywhere you do," says Montgomery. "But, because those spaces don't exist today, we need to create and build them."

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