Sports Complex - Going the Distance: Athletes’ Yellow Brick Road to the Games

Around the globe, almost 22,000 athletes are preparing and training for this summer’s Gay Games VII and Outgames I.
One of the northernmost participants in these events is track athlete Laura Carpenter of Anchorage, Alaska. The 28-year-old writer, who has been out for almost 10 years, works for the Anchorage Daily News and has lived there for three years.
Carpenter will compete in three distance-running races at Outgames, to be held in Montreal July 26 to Aug. 5. A runner for 17 years and a former All-American college athlete, Carpenter mostly works out alone, but once a week meets with a coach and other members of Team Alaska for speed work on the track.
Carpenter says running outdoors in the Alaskan winter was part of her workout. “We have lots of great biking trails that are groomed during the winter that I run on (wearing lots of layers, including a face mask when necessary).” She mostly trained on an indoor treadmill and a stationary road bike in her apartment.
Another deterrent to outdoor training in Alaska is the wildlife. Carpenter has seen seven bears and an occasional moose “Usually the moose don’t mind me at all,” says Carpenter. “I jog on past, and they continue munching on bark.” Last month, however, Carpenter startled a moose, who charged. “He was pretty big, too. My relaxing run turned into a sprint. But the path was winding, and moose like to run in a straight line. I got rid of him quickly. Luckily, I could take an alternate route home.”
Team Alaska is assisting Carpenter and other athletes with some of their travel expenses through its scholarship program. Carpenter and her partner, Kenna Bates, who will be traveling to Montreal to support her, have also created a fundraising concept unique to their world by selling a board game they created called Alaska Dyke Life (www.kennabates.com).
To find the LGBT athlete who lives the farthest south, head to Nelson, New Zealand, where Kate Batten was raised. In 2002, Batten won a bronze medal in mountain biking at Sydney’s Gay Games VI, but will switch to road racing for Chicago’s Games, which take place July 15-22.
“The other cycle racing I have done has been part of multi-sport races and triathlons,” says Batten. “I’m excited to be doing something different, and as I worked as a volunteer on the road races in Sydney, it got me motivated to try it.”
Until recently, the 38-year-old Batten trained at undoubtedly the southernmost point on the globe - the South Pole. A carpenter, Batten is working on the construction of a new station for the U.S. Antarctic Program for scientific and environmental research. The former cycling tour leader, who’s traveled to Nepal and other countries, rode a bike across North America in 1998.
Like Carpenter, Batten trained indoors, using a treadmill, stationary bike, and, she adds, “a lot of books on tape.” Batten wasn’t the only gay staffer at the Antarctic station. “There were other gay and bi(sexual) folks there. We had weekly viewings of The L Word.”
To welcome visiting athletes, local teams like the Chicago Razors, a group of triathletes, will host parties for all their fellow competitors. Since March, the Razors organized training sessions for its 60 members, says Bill Toepper of the Razors, who added that at least 30 are competing in the Games.
A triathlete post-race party is planned for Tuesday, July 18, at Chicago’s Sidetrack bar. “We’re hoping to have a pre-race party also,” says Toepper. The Razors will also host a noncompetitive bike ride for later in the week of the Games, “to showcase the city and allow (participants) to use their bikes for something more than racing.”
During their plane flights, participants like Batten and Carpenter may see plenty of squared plains far below, what some jokingly refer to as “flyover states.” This summer, those states are blossoming as purple plains of LGBT jocks.
Known as the land of The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale, Kansas is also home to hundreds of athletes headed to Chicago. Of the 60 coming from Kansas City, 20 are swimmers and members of KC Wave, the local aquatics team.
Swimmer Dan Melton, 26, will compete in five swimming events. A graduate student at University of Missouri at Kansas City, Melton helped design www.TotoSports.org, a Kansas City athlete website featuring Dorothy’s dog, Toto. T-shirts and other items bearing the logo have become popular team fundraisers.
“Our shirts are really quite popular,” says Melton, particularly at International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) championships, where KC Wave has had a strong presence.
Melton, who came out at 19 and began training with KC Wave in 1999, says, “It’s been quite an experience. Previously, my only experience with gay people was on TV, or at my local youth group, where it was more about coming out and dealing with issues.” After joining the swim team, Melton, says, “I had no idea there were so many other gay people” who were also athletes.
Melton will join an even larger group of Games participants when he plays tenor saxophone with 40 other members of Kansas City’s MidAmerica Freedom Band (and dozens of other LGBT marching bands from around the world) at Gay Games VII’s opening and closing ceremonies, held July 15 at Soldier Field, and July 22 at Wrigley Field.
With only two days of practices, Melton says, “It’ll be fun. I may not get all my swimming events in, but we’ll see. I’m really pumped up about it all.”
Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org. He can be reached at sportscomplex@qsyndicate.com.

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