By: Emeric Harney
Growing up in New England, I went to an all-boys prep school where I was a decent soccer and hockey player with a friendly attitude on and off the field. Sport was such a huge part of my life, and many of my close friends were also teammates. I didn’t want any of that to change when I came out as gay my sophmore year, but sadly, it did. My teammates stopped talking to me, and I lost much of the joy I once found in sports.
In college, I worked out, focusing mostly on aesthetics, without purpose or direction and without any major success. I found myself gravitating towards only LGBT communities where I knew I’d be welcomed. I got married and fell into a rut of working, video games and mediocre fitness.
Fast forward to 2018, I decided I’d had enough of it. I started holding myself accountable for what I was putting into my body and what I was doing with it. I needed to set myself a goal. My uncle had done Fenway Spartan Sprints (Spartan races at Fenway Stadium in Boston) for a few years, and somehow the Spartan algorithm on Facebook got it right and hit me with a sale price for the West Point Sprint. Everything aligned at the right time, and I booked my first race with a friend in tow.
On the drive to the race, we talked about how despite signing up for a semi-competitive heat, we’d just try and go through it and make sure we finished. However, the minute we got into the corral, I could feel my blood pumping. The adrenaline took over and within 30 seconds of the start, I’d left my friend behind me. From then on I was hooked! I booked the Killington Beast (13+ miles), finishing in just over 4 hours. I nearly failed on the NJ Super (8+ miles) in that Nor’Easter that took over the course. The rain and wind pelting us at 37º, I ended up doing over 200 burpees that day. I decided then that I knew what 2019 had in store for me: More Spartans. More improvement. More living.
I started 2019 studying to earn my Certification for Personal Training. With a gift from my husband, I bought my Season’s Pass and started to plan my year out. I planned over 18 races for the year from March – November. An interesting part of my Spartan experience is that in the beginning, in 2018 and even in my first races of 2019, I was very reclusive. I saw the camaraderie and the spirit of Spartan, but I didn’t know that I could be a part of it as a gay athlete who was a bit shy. The sport of Obstacle Racing has such an energy to it, but I didn’t feel it at first, or maybe I didn’t have the confidence in my fellow racers to be welcoming of a gay racer. But boy, was I wrong.
In July at Fort Carson, I arrived 2 hours before my Age group starting time and started chatting with a girl named Tish. She and I connected instantly, and she encouraged me to run the race with the 20-pound vest. That connection created a snowball effect. At Asheville, I came in 6th for both the super and the sprint, and I commiserated with the other athletes at the top of my age group (AG) about the condition and how challenging the course was. The guys that I met there have become some of my closest racing buddies. We shared a house for the West Virginia Spartan NA championships and our bond has continued since. We communicate daily about things we’re working on and support each other. We push each other and cheer on for our successes. This bond of brotherhood is something I never knew I’d get the chance to experience after coming out.
Then, of course, there are my own successes. I came in 3rd for my AG at Killington last year, a fair improvement from my first attempt, coming in 52nd. I pushed and pushed myself and it paid off. I took my first gold medal on the trail at the NJ Beast, a tasty revenge from almost failing that course the year prior. I’m now a certified Personal Trainer, training clients between 6-9, going to work 9-5 for my family’s 2 beverage companies and then again training 5-7 and sharing my passion and commitment to fitness with anyone who will listen. I even think I’ll be able to get some of them out on a course in 2021!
My message to any LGBTQI+ athlete wondering if there’s a place for them in sport is this: If you work diligently to be the best you can be and keep an open mind, your peers will realize your commitment and passion. Your vibe will attract your tribe.
All photos courtesy of Emeric Harney. Follow Emeric on Instagram @emericharney