Everyday Heroes at the ASANA Heroes 5k

For me, running has always been so much more than just a physical outlet — it has the power to inspire and challenge me, and to connect me with friends and communities. I experienced all of this firsthand on August 25, when I ran the first Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA) Heroes 5k in Long Beach, California, along with LGBTQ athletes from across the country. We had some allies there too, including my best friend from high school, who drove up from San Diego to run with me. 

ASANA is a nonprofit dedicated to the participation of LGBTQ women+ in athletics, and many of their nationwide members participate in the annual ASANA Softball World Series, which was held in Long Beach this year. ASANA works to give LGBTQ women+ a space a come together and be who they are.

“It’s really important for athletes to be able to be themselves,” ASANA Secretary Tarah Burns told me. “I’ve played sports my whole life. I played softball in college and when I realized I was gay, coming out was a huge deal. It gave me more confidence and helped me perform better on the field. I’ve also been inspired by seeing my heroes come out and realizing that it’s possible to be a gay Olympian. It’s incredibly important for kids to see this level of visibility, and hopefully it makes their journey that much easier.”

Tarah Burns (L) and me

I asked Tarah about the inspiration behind the race, and the importance of creating community for LGBTQ people within sports.

“When we started thinking of hosting our first 5k, we were inspired by all the amazing athletes and Ambassadors Athlete Ally has worked with,” Tarah said.  “At first, we thought of heroes in the traditional sense, but we were inspired by Athlete Ally to go beyond that. We wanted people to think of their personal heroes, from Wonder Woman to Megan Rapinoe to their coach, and give thanks to them.”

It’s especially meaningful when these heroes measure our own life experiences. Asaff Weinburg, a fellow race participant and the President of LGBTQ running club Shoreline Front Runners, spoke to me about the power of LGBTQ visibility:

“In the last few years, when more athletes, actors and other celebrities come out and LGBTQ characters are depicted and included in TV and movies, I feel and see the huge difference it makes to our community, and especially to younger members. Visibility is crucial for our own well-being and development.”

We also had former Athlete Ally Campus Chapter leader and tennis player Ashley Dai at the race, and she echoed Asaf’s sentiment.

Ashley Dai (L) and fiance Paula

“I think that being able to be yourself in sports is critical to each individuals’ performance,” Ashley said. “To me, sports is the epitome of self and human expression – where we are able to see people for who they are in their truest forms. Coming out or seeing people come out may help people see that they’re not alone, but organizations like ASANA and Athlete Ally actually make you feel less alone and that people have your back.”

For me personally, this race was special for a number of reasons. I loved meeting the ASANA athletes, and learning more about the ways they build community through sports. It was amazing to see all the runners wearing Athlete Ally bracelets, and to have the opportunity to talk to them about our work. I’m also a member of Front Runners New York, and got to meet and run along with fellow Front Runners as well. 

On my way to the race, I thought about my best friend from high school, and how we used to share secrets and sing as we ran together through the streets of our suburban hometown. She was the first person I ever came out to, and she told me immediately she would love and support me no matter what. It’s because of allies like her, groups like Front Runners and ASANA, and the work we do at Athlete Ally that I’ve been able to be fully myself as an out queer runner, and I can’t imagine my life any other way.