My name is C.C. Tellez, and I’m an openly lesbian distance runner from Bolivia. I’ve partnered up with Athlete Ally to share my story and highlight the power of visibility.
I recently ran my 100th race since I started running 7 years ago. I reached this epic number by running in an annual city-wide running competition between all of the running clubs in Philadelphia. I ran representing the Lez Run team, an LGBTQ running club that I founded in 2013. Lez Run started as a small club with the intent to provide a healthy and safe outlet for lesbian athletes and since its first run, it has done more than just that. Upon its inception, I knew that our club would exist not because we needed to be another club in the city, but because our athlete’s needs were different and they needed extra support. LGBTQ runners and other athletes faced and still face far more challenges than elevation changes every time we hit the road. The fear of exposure leaves many in hiding, especially in countries where it remains illegal to be openly gay.
Growing up as a closeted lesbian athlete, I longed to hear about a proud, openly lesbian athlete, especially one that was Bolivian like me. Knowing one existed could have given me the courage to own my truth a lot sooner and would have perhaps prevented a lot of heartache. Sadly, I lacked the strength then to be my own role model, so I hid and waited for the day that one would come forward.
Since then, I’ve seen many US professional and amateur athletes make their way out of the closet and sadly onto the bench or into retirement. But this did not have a negative impact on me. I finally saw what I needed to see: courage. I witnessed athletes putting everything on the line to be fully recognized as who they are, no matter the outcome. A fire lit inside me that I knew was going to be hard to put out. I wanted so badly to associate with those out and proud athletes, but they seemed so out of reach. I thought about writing letters to them to show my support, but then wondered if they would even get to read my words of encouragement. I struggled to find a way to connect with them, and then it hit me: I had to become part of the movement. I owed it to my younger self to step up and be the person I was looking for. I needed to be the out and proud, lesbian, Bolivian athlete with Olympic dreams.
From that moment on, I have run every race with a dual purpose of doing well and being true to myself. I also made sure that through Lez Run, others like me had an outlet to do just that. By running with my community members I am able to give my athletes and supporters much-needed visibility and representation. I believe that visibility teaches and can create change. My Lez Runners are now the diverse faces that give others courage, and we hope that we empower other athletes to be visible with their own truth.
To all the closeted athletes, foreign and domestic: Though I might not be able to see you right now, I hope you see me, and I hope I’ll see you soon.