By Jules Bursee & Kristina Nungaray
It is only just after 11:00 AM, and sitting across from the one person who has become a constant force of nature in a messy, chaotic, always funny, sometimes heartbreaking life; it becomes very clear in an airport restaurant just how little sleep was had the night before. Packing. Organizing. Planning. Letting it all sink in that in just a few short hours the moment we have been talking about for months will finally be springing into reality. The level of “it’s finally here” giddiness can’t be displaced by lack of sleep –– after all, losing sleep isn’t new to a duo who has made the better part of a year juggling full time jobs, starting a new small business, waking up for 4:30 AM track sprints, and training daily with two and three-a-day workouts. Suddenly it is clear how everything over the past 12 months has been leading up to this moment, and to the year ahead. While it is the start of a new year, there are no “new year, new me” resolutions here, instead we are waiting to board a flight for the first race of several in 2022, the first event in a year ahead full of endurance events – 21 to be exact – where our sole goal is to take up space. Be visible. We are bringing queer (LGBTQIA+) visibility to endurance racing, and we are creating space for others, using movement as a vehicle for community building.
The “Say Maybe” team formed as any good duo begins––as friends. Ironically enough, our friendship started as two neighbors who each thought the other one hated them. It wasn’t until chance bonding as members of the same fitness community led to the discovery of shared interests in fitness and healthy meal prep. From there, a small business and lasting partnership was born. In building this partnership, the idea of giving back and community building was always at the forefront. Likewise, much of our friendship has been built on leading by example to push (by way of encouragement) the other to do hard things and find fulfillment in pushing forward and giving back.
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Our lives kind of collided into each other at a time that was rife for change. We both moved early in the pandemic, into the same building at the same time, and quickly bonded over mutual need for something different in life. Therein became the budding ideas of a healthy meal prep business aimed at finding ways to provide food in food desert neighborhoods, seeking coaching certifications to build communities around movement, and the long-shot goal of training for and completing a first triathlon in a little under a month. Spoiler alert: one of us couldn’t swim, and the other one couldn’t ride a bike. The support and volume of messages we both received around that first endurance event led to the birth of another kind of partnership –– a racing duo.
Over the course of the last year, not without sacrifice, a chance acquaintanceship of two new neighbors turned into two lost souls becoming best friends and using every opportunity and resource within sight, not even within reach yet, to build a dream life that would make giving back to a community in need just as much of a priority as traveling and doing the things we love.
As a racing duo, we are taking the year ahead to push our physical and mental limits competing in 21 different endurance events across twelve months spanning across marathons, half marathons, trail races, road races, open water races, triathlons, swim meets, and even our first Ultra. The locations span everywhere from Oregon to Ireland. For us, this year in endurance sports is not only about visibility, but about toeing the line of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. This year represents a lot of firsts for members of the team –– new events, longer distances, shorter recovery turnaround, loftier performance goals, and a partnership that relies on high levels of trust, communication, and loyalty. It’s not without sacrifice, or putting in the work. A typical day starts with a 4AM wake up, earlier if track sprints and speed training is involved, and in addition to full time jobs and co-founding a small business together, includes squeezing in intense training sessions three times a day. Why are we putting ourselves through it? Because nothing makes us happier, and somewhere along the way we decided to take something we love and make it work for us physically, mentally, and soulfully with the hopes of building something greater than just two friends tackling a bunch of races.
Early in our friendship, we would challenge each other to lead by example. This year, we decided to form a racing team to do just that. For the year ahead, we want to lead by example to chase hard things and to take up space, even if you don’t see a place for yourself in that space. As queer athletes, we want to bring LGBTQ+ visibility to endurance racing, and to build community around that. We are currently forming a queer running club in Jersey City, where we both live and train, and look forward to what that will bring. We are also forming an LGBTQ+ Ragnar racing team for our first Ragnar race in September. Our plans for the year also include bringing movement-based activities to New Jersey with the aim of giving back –– we are actively beginning a partnership with a local shelter to offer a running program for its residents, aiming to build confidence and empowerment through movement; and through our small meal prep business, we are working to implement community fridges in Jersey City and are starting a weekly run club aimed at community building and food assistance.
As we started training for our first triathlon, sharing some of our training wins and learning curves, people started reaching out, confiding their desire to try something new or challenging, but ultimately also sharing that they were waiting –– for the right time, to be the right size and shape, for the triathlon world to be less male dominated, to have enough support –– to do the hard things. Basically, the takeaway we were getting from these messages was, I really want to do this :: insert some cool, hard, badass thing:: but I don’t fit into this space.
Cue two athletes that have become all too comfortable with forging space where they felt there wasn’t any, taking up all the room, and (hopefully) making it count. In just a short period of time, it became startlingly clear to us that visibility matters and that the only way you can create space for others is by taking up a little of your own. We intend to do both.
We stand by the notion that resilience is built, and fostered, through community. There is something to be said about doing hard things, and there is certainly something to be said for the act of doing hard things together. That is why we are using this year to race as a team, and as a team, why we are focused on giving back through movement. We are looking forward to using movement –– running, walking, group fitness, etc. –– to build community in a very ‘Come as you are’ sense. The idea of taking up space is to create space for those that are looking for their own. This is especially important in walks of life, like the queer community, where your community often becomes your chosen family. We want to use movement as a platform to invite others to join us, to take up space in every possible way, just as you are, and know that you are welcome here.
Likewise, we are using the races that we compete in this year as a platform to raise funds for LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations that foster community, lend resources and support services to the community at large. Just as it has been brought to our attention time and again through the personal messages we have received that society has a way of making others feel less than, or unworthy of participation in certain activities, or like they don’t belong in certain places, it is not lost on us that while progress has been, and continues to be, made members of the LGBTQ+ community are relegated to a status of other or unworthy all too often. We want to spend the next year lending support to those organizations that uplift and foster the community that we are very much a part of and those nonprofits that help LGBTQ+ individuals embrace themselves fully.
Fast forward: We’re traveling home from our second event of the season, a 10 mile trail race in Newport, Oregon. We’ve been up since 1:00 AM and have just finished sprinting a little over a mile across an airport to make a narrow flight connection. We are entering the third time zone in less than twelve hours and even though we are somewhere between 7:40 PM CST and 8:40 PM EST, a few things are certain––we are incredibly sleep deprived, we won’t be home until after midnight, we’re both working early in the morning, but our hearts are full and we are ready. Ready to start training for the next event, for a triathlon less than a month away. Ready to bring people together in a positive and uplifting way that creates community and celebrates movement. We are ready to celebrate queerness in endurance racing and to raise money for LGBTQ+ organizations.
Making a movement out of movement has to start somewhere, and for us, it has to be as easy as putting one foot in front of the other: compete, community, visibility, drawing attention to, and raising funds for causes that we care about. We know what the backdrop of the year ahead looks like, but we don’t know what it will bring. We do know one thing, for whatever is to come, we are ready.
Photo Credit: Fwee Carter