Living authentically opens doors, and I couldn’t have predicted the winding path that led me to coaching. I had agreed to pace a friend’s high-school aged daughter at a CNW All Comer’s Meet. Together we successfully smashed her PR, and she introduced me to her coach. I was giddy with the joy of mentoring a young runner and was delighted when he emailed me and asked if I’d like to come assistant coach cross-country. Coaching has always been a dream of mine, so I was really thrilled that I was finally in a portion of my life where I could. In my excitement, I started researching the school, only to discover that it was both private and Christian.
A bad break from Christianity was a part of the life I had left behind in Pennsylvania, and my current life was intentionally, utterly devoid of any religious influence. As I researched, I was transported back to my teen years, surrounded by many conservatives who believed I shouldn’t exist. My short haircut already setting me apart, I had nervously concealed female partners, highlighting instances where I dated men to shelter myself in the safety of heterosexual privilege. That life didn’t serve me, to put it mildly. One of the largest benefits of moving solo cross-country had been the freedom to live exactly the life I want, to be out as my queer, poly self in all arenas of my life. My new life isn’t perfect, but I am living my truth. For no one would I hide again, and crestfallen, I began to worry what parts of myself I would be asked to sacrifice in pursuit of my dream to coach.
I decided that I was confident enough in the life I lead and drew for myself three firm boundaries: I would not closet myself, put on religious airs, or cover my tattoos. I met with the head coach, toured the campus, and discussed coaching philosophy. Encouraged by his holistic approach, I started to see this as a place where I could make a difference. I took a deep breath and explained my boundaries to the head coach, and he chuckled. He wanted me, my whole self, for the job.
Within the first few days of coaching, I had already begun chafing my tendency to gloss over details, declining to use the word girlfriend when describing my female primary partner, old anxieties surfacing. True to the promises I made to myself, I came out to my fellow assistant coaches. Seemingly caught off-guard, they each gave me a big hug and told me that they loved me for who I am.
The season progressed, and I adored coaching. I look forward to seeing my athletes every day, respect and adoration building between us like a family. Healthy and happy, I ran with the kids more days than not, connecting deeply with them. My perspective on topics was very distinct, and I reveled in pushing the kids to think differently about running, eating, and life. My personal life wasn’t a focus, but I also didn’t conceal anything. One day, one of my senior athletes told me that she had seen me out in Ballard at the farmers market. I had been there with my girlfriend, and we are often affectionate. This occurred shortly before the state meet, for which the boys and girls teams had both qualified. I decided to come out to my athletes on the state meet trip.
Over the weekend, plenty of tea was spilled as the kids talked about dating and relationships as we drove. I wished I could participate, but driving the bus required most of my attention and focus. I assuaged my nerves, reminding myself of the strong bonds forged of hard work during the season. After switching out briefly with another driver, sore and exhausted, I commanded attention and stumbled through a coming out speech. I honestly don’t remember what I said. They thanked me for trusting them, took turns hugging me, reassuring me. I breathed a sigh of relief and fell asleep the reminder of the drive back to campus. When we returned to the school to part ways, I received many more heartfelt embraces.
Encouraged but cautious, I waited for the other shoe to drop, for one of their parents to make an issue out of my life, but the fallout never came. I was invited back to coach track, and this time I was very casually out, easily talking about my girlfriend and showing people our cute Lez Prom outfits during prom season. My openness and ease invited the same from my athletes, and even athletes outside my distance circle seemed excited to connect and talk about life.
I feel so much gratitude that as an out bisexual poly person, I have this opportunity to help mold the future generation of runners, and by extension, the future of distance running itself. By living my truth and being my whole, vulnerable, queer self as a coach, I hope to move the needle towards a more inclusive future, even in a small way.