Black Diamond Presents: Miles To Go

The sun beat down on my shoulders. I knew despite the layers of sunscreen it was penetrating deep into my skin. My feet hurt. My lower back was seized up. I slowed to a walk. I placed one foot in front of the other on the trampled grass trail.

Gabe looked at me and said, “we are still on track to make it back before the top of the hour. Let’s just keep moving.” 

Reaching past my physical pain I tapped into my years of training and competing to access that gritty part of me that had endured far worse, and I picked it back up to a slow jog. All I had to do was reach the finish before the hour was up.

As I pressed on through the discomfort, I thought about why I was doing this. Why I was running laps around cow-fields and prairies and through streams under the hot Texas sun. I wasn’t doing it because I had to. I wasn’t doing it because of some great prize. I wasn’t doing it because someone dared me to. I was doing it for something far greater than myself.

I was doing it because lawmakers in Texas and Alabama and Arkansas and Idaho and over 15 other states, were saying that trans kids should not have the right to compete as their true selves, and in many cases should not even have the right to become their true selves. I was running because as a transgender man I wanted to show how important sport is to so many of us. It is a place to excel, to find joy, friends, community, and to show up as the very essence of who we are.

Trail running has been a place where I can truly feel free to be exactly who I am. It took a long time to get there—to move past the judgements about if I was fit enough or fast enough or slender enough or good enough. Sometime in the past few years as a trail runner I moved past running as a means to prove something and into running as simply a place to be. No longer for me is it about speed or distance or even looking the part. Now it’s about enjoying the view, stopping for a quick swim, bringing along tasty snacks, and going slowly enough to enjoy the conversation of the friends I make on the trail.

I remember in college asking people who were not athletes how they made friends. Sports were always the place I found my friends and built my community. Without sport, I would never be the person I am. I would never have created The Venture Out Project and we would not have this powerful tool for brining queer people together and finding joy in our bodies, our friends and our natural world.

I’m so excited by the support Black Diamond provides us and by the opportunity we have, to create an event called AOTA—a trail running festival where we everyone is welcome—beginners, seasoned runners, straight allies, queer athletes and fans, lifelong runners and folks who never thought they’d enter a running event. We can’t wait to keep changing the narrative around who a runner is, what it means to take to the trails, and to support trans youth and adults and our allies.  Check back soon for more details about the event and how you can support us in making the trails more accessible and supportive to all.

--Perry Cohen