|Frontrunners Rhode Island|
originally published in options magazine, june 2014
It's 6pm on a Thursday night in Providence. A group of men and women are gathered at the north end of the Blackstone Boulevard path, trading warm greetings and chatting about the weather, the joys and pains of the week, and news of the day. They're doctors and college professors, social workers and house painters, postal carriers and librarians, civil liberties advocates and artists. Collectively, they form Frontrunners Rhode Island, a group of LGBTQ runners and walkers who gather every week to traverse a few miles of the Boulevard and neighboring streets, followed by dinner at a local restaurant. Depending on the season, they'll be either bundled up or wearing next to nothing. The club meets year-round, and its members share a dedication to fitness, good health and enduring friendship. On occasion, they're joined by gay-friendly folks who simply enjoy the camaraderie. Everyone's welcome.
International Frontrunners has chapters all over the world, but the first club began in San Francisco in 1974. Inspired by Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner - a controversial novel about a gay track coach and his openly gay protégé - the group has grown to include more than 100 chapters all over the world, from Providence to Paris. For many, the network of clubs means the assurance that, when traveling or moving to a new city, they'll likely find a cohort of LGBTQ runners (not all clubs can boast a walking contingent), forge new ties and be made to feel at home on unfamiliar turf. Clubs can be found in almost all major cities around the globe, and in many mid-sized towns like Providence.
Frontrunners Rhode Island was started in 1997 by mainstay local runners Brian Patrick Mulligan and Deirdre Bird, both of whom have for years placed high in regional races. The pace of the group varies, from a small number who regularly run five miles at a good clip along a beautiful route, following the Boulevard and River Road, to walkers and runners who prefer to stick to the path, covering two to four miles. Every year, the group runs the Cape Cod Marathon Relay, and they've placed well in the rankings, but not everyone is in it for the competition. Some just enjoy the chance to get fit with like-minded friends, whatever the pace.
Compared to juggernaut clubs like those in New York City, San Francisco and London, who number in the hundreds, the Rhode Island group (like its namesake) is small. In fact, it's the only Frontrunners group that uses a state name instead of that of its home city. The group wants to welcome into its ranks more LGBTQ people from the area, and is open to anyone interested in joining them for the weekly runs. From the large number of colleges and universities in the area, along with Rhode Island's energetic LGBTQ community, membership can surely broaden, and with it the circle of people who enjoy good company and fitness in Providence.
Becoming part of the group is easy. They have a Facebook page (FrontrunnersRhodeIsland) and they're linked from the International Frontrunners website (www.frontrunners.org), where you can find contact information. You can also stop by their table at the Rhode Island PrideFest every summer on the Providence Waterfront. But perhaps the simplest way to join them for a run or walk is to show up on any given Thursday at 6pm, where the Blackstone path meets Hope Street. Just look for the friendliest people around, ready to elevate heart rates with a little conversation thrown in for good measure.