RUNNING WITH PRIDE
In recognition of Pride Month, we’ve asked Altra R.E.D. (orange, yellow, green, blue, purple) Team members Paul and Victoria to share stories about what it’s like being part of the LGBTQ and running communities.
Allo bonjour, I’m Paul from Montreal (rhymes 😁).
Montreal is a city well known for its multicultural diversity, sporting events, natural spaces, bilingual status (French is the official language), and PRIDE/DIVERSITÉ parade every August. In my life presently, I am many things: A trail runner, an artist, a VF employee, a husband, a stepfather, a grandfather, a brother, and a son, to name a few. The journey wasn’t planned. Nonetheless, I am happy for having finally learned to accept and embrace myself as a gay man, because at the core, that’s where it starts before we expect others to accept us.
Trail running wasn’t a known thing when I was a teenager or young adult. Even during that time in my life, I lacked a lot of confidence and self-acceptance which resulted in physical pain, anxiety, and confusion. In my thirties, I had done my coming-out, so I was learning to accept myself and feel good, inside and out. Many doors metaphorically opened when I allowed myself to branch out and be curious to try new challenges like the Spartan Race. I discovered trail running seven years ago following a dare from my former employer to join their team for the Spartan Race. At the time, I was not an experienced runner, had never cross trained, and didn’t belong to any organized outdoor or sporting clubs, even LGBTQ+ to say the least. I joined the Montreal Outdoor Adventure Club (MOAC) through Meetup for their weekly Spartan Race training activity to prepare myself, training on gravel roads and trails close to the city. Soon after, thanks to the friendships I made in the culturally diverse MOAC, I was sold and hooked to trail running (my husband says I’m obsessed). I wasn’t the fastest runner in the pack, and the club motivated me to push my limits; the color of skin, religion and sexual orientation never mattered. What mattered was, collectively, we liked the same thing: the freedom of running in nature, getting muddy and seeing new places.
In 2015, I accepted an opportunity to work at VF Outdoor in customer service. Working at VF opened many rewarding opportunities such as running with colleagues at lunchtime on the nearby trails. Soon after, they saw me as ‘that Paul-who-loves-to-run.’ I started entering a series of brand sponsored trail events and had the opportunity to connect with a variety of trail runners in my journey, notably Corey Woltering and Ryan Montgomery, two outspoken LGBTQ+ athletes.
Last year, I eagerly jumped on the opportunity to become a customer service rep for Altra in Canada, and soon after, a R.E.D. Team member. What got me through this challenging year with COVID-19 was trail running and artistic creativity through figure drawing. Although the two don’t seem connected, they’ve allowed me to remain healthy, grounded and stay connected with my distinct running and creative tribes which is important when we identify as LGBTQ+. Who knows, maybe soon enough I’ll do a project where the pursuits can be bridged into a creative one.
With VF and Altra, they sky is the limit!
Paul Davidson is an Altra R.E.D. Team member, an LGBTQ trail runner, and an artist.
Pride, to me, is a month of reflection, action, and appreciation. I choose to honor the history and activism of those who came before me, many of whom were people of color who led the Stonewall uprising. I try to learn as much as I can about where we've been as a community while helping advance the possibilities of where we'll be in the future. We're a strong, vibrant, and diverse community. I choose to celebrate Pride and to reflect on how far I've come personally, and I also choose to keep up the fight for our future.
During my first run of Pride month, I spent an hour remembering the people whose activism and sacrifices shaped my life into something easier than my predecessors' lives. But the battle isn’t close to over. Our community is under constant threat. New laws that target trans people are rapidly being passed, and conversion therapy is still legal in many places. I’m grateful for all the supportive resources available to youth nowadays. I wish I’d had those resources when I was a teenager. But I also know that access to resources can be limited for a lot of reasons. We need protective laws to help those who are most vulnerable.
I grew up playing soccer mostly on boys’ teams in boys’ leagues. I was almost always the only girl on the team and quite often the only girl in the league. A lot of boys liked to insult me or intimidate me by calling me gay. Turns out, they were just stating a fact. But it did damage at the time. It framed my identity as something derogatory, negative, a point of attack. As I got older, that framework manifested into fear and secrecy—and lots of pretending for safety’s sake—because those words were spoken to me so young as a threats and insults. I hope that soon every child playing any sport will have a safe, welcoming, supportive environment.
Running helps me sort out my emotions and make sense of all the hard things in this world. I was out in high school at a time when it was almost unheard of to be an openly gay kid in the deep south. Sometimes I run past places that were significant to me at that time—a park where I first spoke aloud about being gay, a street corner where a man screamed in my face for being queer, a house where I felt safe with an older lesbian couple who looked out for me. Those things may be in the past, but they’re very much alive in my mind to this day. Running past those landmarks brings up a lot of emotions, good and bad. When I see Pride flags or ally signs in people's yards, I feel a tiny bit safer and more welcome in a part of the country that can otherwise be difficult to navigate.
I think a lot of people feel more comfortable taking up a sport if they see others like them already participating. Lack of representation can be a barrier to access. I hope my visibility as an out athlete helps encourage other people in the queer community to lace up and log miles.
My hope for Pride month is that our community celebrates and supports each other, and that different generations of us learn from each other’s unique perspectives. I also hope that allyship continues to expand, and that meaningful action is taken to protect LGBTQ human rights. We’ve covered a lot of miles over the years, but we have a lot more to go.
Victoria Stopp is an Altra R.E.D. Team member, Lyme disease warrior, author, and healthcare worker.