By Laura Latzko, April 2016 Issue.

Since 1999, the mission of the Phoenix Frontrunners has been to cultivate an inclusive fitness community and create awareness about health and exercise.

As part of the mission, the local LGBT-identified and allied running and walking group has produced 17 Pride Runs in Phoenix.

Not only does this year mark the 18th annual Pride Run, which will take place April 2, it also marks the introduction of an art festival into the weekend lineup.

Photo by Bill Gemmill.

Runners, Take Your Mark

According to Phoenix Frontrunners vice president Dan Shabra, the Pride Run has grown and gained greater support from the LGBTQ community in recent years.

“The community is coming together for support, equality, inclusion, diversity and acceptance,” Shabra said.  “Not everybody goes to the festival, so here’s another outlet for the community to still be part of pride week.”

The Pride Run, which takes place April 2, invites LGBTQ and allied runners and walkers to participate in half-marathon, 10K, 5K and Kids Run courses.

The half marathon and 10K courses begin at the Christown Spectrum Mall, at 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road, and the 5K and Kids Run courses begin at Palm Lane and Central Avenue. All courses end at the Phoenix Art Museum.

The top male and female finishers in each run will receive medals. The Frontrunners also gives out finisher medals to all participants who complete the courses in the allotted time (indicated on the website).

This year, the Phoenix Frontrunners has extended the invitation to get involved to everyone – not rust runners and walkers – with the Rainbow Charity Challenge.

As part of the new challenge, the Frontrunners are acknowledging donations with medals and chances to win additional prizes (depending on the amount donated). All funds raised will benefit Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, Aunt Rita’s Foundation, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Pride LGBT Center, Arizona Animal Welfare League and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

This year, Shabra said the Frontrunners are aiming for 1,500 participants. Last year, about 850 runners and walkers – from 21 different states and Canada – participated in the Pride Run.

Fitness Expo and Arts Festival 

This year, the Frontrunners expanded the pride-themed festivities with a two-day fitness expo and arts festival, which will take place April 1 and 2 at the Phoenix Art Museum.

According to Shabra, the expo and arts festival gives runners and walkers a place to socialize before and after the run, adding that the museum will offer free admission to festivalgoers April 1 as part of its First Friday programming.

The two-day event will have a beer garden, live music from a Power 98.3 DJ, local vendors, a Phoenix Frontrunners Pride Run gear store, health and nutrition-themed booths and food vendors.

Additionally, four local bands – Cosmic Shindig, Soul Selective, New Wave Order and About Time – will add to the festival atmosphere with classic rock, ‘80s, soul and ska/reggae music, respectively.

Photo by Bill Gemmill.

A Runner’s Perspective

Leading up to the Pride Run, many Phoenix Frontrunners members train for the courses. With the level of difficulty of the courses and the element of competition, Shabra said runners need to be prepared.

According to Shirley, running has been a part of his life from a young age: Growing up on a reservation in New Mexico, Shirley ran with his family daily.

“In the morning, my dad was very adamant about getting us up before the sun because the sun blesses you when it rises," he said. "When that happens, we were running towards the sun."

As part of group runs, Shirley said the Frontrunners encourage each other and push each other to continually improve.

“Fitness is a part of our lives ... whether it’s to keep in shape or to have that [de-stress] therapy,” Shirley said. “[Running is] just a nice way to actively improve yourself and challenge yourself.”

This year, Shirley hopes to better his time in the 5K run after recovering from a hamstring tear seven months ago. To prepare, he has incorporated high-intensity interval training into his runs.

Phoenix Frontrunners

With its participation in International Front Runners, a collection of LGBTQ running clubs throughout the world, Phoenix Frontrunners has become globally known.

“It’s an individual sport, but you build relationships and partnerships, and you create these running buddies,” Shabra said.

According to Shirley, who attends two to three runs each week, the weekly meet ups allow him the opportunity to reconnect with good friends.

“I don’t really fit in a box. I’m gay. I’m Native American," Shirley said. "It’s cool to hang out with guys who don’t really care about what you are, where you’re from. They just care about you as a person.”

In addition to the annual Pride Run, the Phoenix Frontrunners hosts group runs/walks on Tuesdays at Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, first Wednesdays in downtown Phoenix, Thursdays at Tempe Town Lake and Saturdays throughout the summer on Murphy’s Bridle Path in Phoenix.

The walks and runs draw anywhere from 15 to 40 participants, depending on the time of the year, and new members are always welcome. For more information on the Phoenix Frontrunners, visit

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