Summer Sports: Running to Extremes

By Laura Latzko, July 3, 2014.

Temperatures of more than 100 degrees won't keep Trent Taylor from running outdoors during the summer when most folks might prefer to work out in an air-conditioned fitness club.

Running outdoors offers a completely different experience than running on a treadmill at the gym, Taylor said.

"For me, the treadmill is the ‘dreadmill,'" Taylor said. "You don't get to connect with the earth. You don't get to see the places you get to see while you are out running."

Even during Arizona's hottest months, Taylor continues to participate in events offered by Phoenix Frontrunners, an LGBT group that organizes weekly runs and walks year around — whatever the temperature.

"It's motivating to go with a group," said Dan Shabra, vice president of the Frontrunners, explaining the appeal of the events.

Participants meet in the early morning or in the evening to do the runs or walks, some wearing headphones or jogging along with pets.

During the summer, the hour-long Saturday morning event is popular with runners and walkers who use Murphy's Bridal Path, a tree-lined dirt path along Phoenix's Central Avenue.

Shabra said the turnout of 15 to 30 people during the summer compares to 35 to 40 during the cooler months.

The evening events on Tuesday at Dreamy Draw Park in Phoenix and Thursday at Tempe Beach Park draw a handful of people during the summer, compared to 10 to 15 the rest of the year, Shabra said.

Before the runs, participants generally get in a circle for introductions and directions about the route.

Afterwards, runners and walkers go out together for brunch or happy hour.

During the summer, members of the group travel to other cities to participate in Pride runs or relay races. Members of the local group recently competed in a Colorado race.

Longtime Frontrunners member Thomas Gunther said relay races add a new dimension to the sport.

"Running is an individual sport. A relay turns it into a team event," he said. "You are rooting each other on and looking out for each other."

Jonathan McKim, who participates along with his partner, said he got into running about a year ago after developing rotator cuff problems that forced him to quit kayaking.

The owner of an architectural practice, McKim said the benefits include sleeping better and feeling more energized.

Scott Greenberg, a member for four years, said he didn't start running and working out until he was in his 30s.

Greenberg said that as a youth he wasn't very athletic and was bullied, but running with the group has helped improve his mental and physical health.

Now the government worker bikes to work every day and has participated in events such as the P.F. Chang's Rock ‘n' Roll Half Marathon.

Meet the Runners

Phoenix Frontrunners is a chapter of International Front Runners, a group that took its name from Patricia Nell Warren's novel 1974 The Front Runner about an out college runner and his coach and their struggle to compete in the 1976 Olympics.

The local group started in 1999 with three members and now has more than 200 male and female participants. The group organizes the annual Pride Run and Walk.

We talked with a few members of the group about their experiences and motivation.

Trent Taylor

Trent Taylor is training for the Ironman Triathlon, with a schedule that includes eight to 20 mile runs, 25 to 65 mile bike rides and 2,000 to 3,000 yard swims.

Taylor, the grandson of an Olympic runner, said members of the Frontrunners have pushed him to enter running events, including 5K runs, half marathons, marathons and ultra marathons of more than 30 miles.

Taylor started running three years ago and joined Frontrunners two years ago.

"They encouraged me to run more. The group's one of the main reasons I'm doing what I do now," he said.

Taylor runs and bikes all over Phoenix, often through favorite spots such as South Mountain and the Pemberton Trail.

The UPS driver also plays basketball and football and snowboards and hikes.

Thomas Gunther said he runs to decompress after a long week at his job developing regulatory procedures for an airline. After running in high school and college, he took a break before joining Phoenix Frontrunners in 2006.

He said the social aspect of the group got him hooked on Frontrunners, and he's encouraged others to join.

"It was meeting people I had something in common with and finding friends that way," Gunther said. "When you are athletic, you spend so much of your time running that you want someone to do it with."

Gunther has participated in marathons, half marathons and relay races in Colorado, California, Hawaii, Texas and Brazil.

Gunther said that running offers an almost meditative experience for him. "Running gives you the ability to be set free, no matter where you are," he said.

Brian Gallop joined the Frontrunners about two years ago after doing AIDS Walk Phoenix. He said participating with the group has made him a better runner and helped him realize his potential.

"I've become a stronger runner because I had the challenge and camaraderie of running with other people," Gallop said. "It is about studying yourself and learning about yourself by watching others."

A runner since 1995, Gallop said he's getting back into running this summer after sustaining an ankle injury by running anywhere from four to nine miles a day.

Gallop, who works in the bathroom design industry, said he often gets up before sunrise to run by himself or with his dog.

Doug Mach, 63, started with the Frontrunners in 1999, making him one of the veteran members of the group.

Mach said that running with the group offers a different experience than going on runs alone.

"When the group isn't there, you miss it. It's the power of the group," said Mach, who is retired.

Mach has participated in a number of 5K races and other events, including the Boston Marathon.

Chris Fain, a runner since high school, joined the Frontrunners after moving to Phoenix in 2005 when he was looking for a support system as he started to train for marathons.

"I learned I'm more capable than I thought when I was running with people who were pushing me," Fain said. "I wanted to try to keep up with them."

Fain, an employee at a mutual fund company, runs two to four times a week, usually in the mornings or late evenings, and sometimes brings his dog along for shorter group runs.

Fain said during hot summer months, training for a triathlon allows him to mix running with swimming and biking.

For more information on Phoenix Frontrunners, visit

The heat is on for summer outdoor volleyball

Anyone who plays in an outdoor sand volleyball league during the heat of the summer has to be dedicated to the sport.

"A lot of the people who come out for the summer are committed to volleyball. It is a passion for them," said Conrad Franz, commissioner for the Arizona Gay Volleyball League.

During the summer, six-person teams play in three divisions Monday nights at Indian Steele Park or the Wyndham Garden Phoenix Midtown Hotel.

Four-person teams play in two divisions Tuesday nights at the park.

Franz said the 40 teams play during the summer, slightly fewer than the spring league.

"People can come and mingle and play competitive volleyball but not be so stifled that they can't be who they are," Franz said of the benefits of playing in an LGBT league.

During a season that lasts from June to August, temperatures at game time can still be in the 90s or even 100s.

Player Johanna Root said that volleyball is a sport that players can still manage in warm temperatures.

"Of course it gets hot, let's face it, it's summer, but it's tolerable," Root said. "Volleyball is still doable."

One thing that keeps players coming out during the summer is the social aspect of the league. Between games at Indian Steele Park, players sit on picnic tables, talking, singing to music on a radio or cheering on other teams.

Andre Hicken said he joined the league in 2009 because he wanted to play volleyball again and meet other members of the LGBT community.

Justin Espinoza, a league MVP during the spring 2014 season, joined a year ago after playing volleyball in high school and on adult club teams. He's also coached girls' volleyball and club teams and works with league members to improve their skills with clinics on passing, serving and spiking.

Hector Morales, who has played volleyball since childhood, said playing with a four-member team helped him to become more accomplished at spiking the ball and other skills.

"You have to be more accurate in your passing, more sound in your setting and make better kills," Morales said. "It makes you a better all-around player."

Some players in the sand volleyball league also play in the Desert Volleyball Alliance's indoor league.

BJ Jauregui played indoor volleyball for a year before joining the sand league on his boyfriend's team.

Jauregui said it took him a while to adjust to the slower pace of outdoor volleyball.

Some players, such as Aaron Fullerton, come to the league with no volleyball experience.

Fullerton said when he was a new player in 1999 he was intimidated, but the welcoming atmosphere of the league made him stick with it.

"I've gotten a lot better from everyone showing me how to play," Fullerton said. "It's a safe place to come out even if you've never played. You'll find people in the same shoes."

Meet the Volleyball Players

Terry O'Connor played soccer from the time he was 2 years old and decided to try volleyball after a co-worker asked him to play. He joined the league four years ago after playing in a city league for about four years.

Connor said he learned from playing with higher-level players.

"You see someone who is better than you, and you strive for that," O'Connor said.

O'Connor, who works in a customer service department for a flooring company, also plays with the Cactus City Softball League and does dirt track racing.

Raul ZubiateRaul Zubiate Jr., assistant commissioner of the league, got involved four years ago. A bartender at Karamba, Zubiate has helped to increase the bar's involvement in the league so that now sponsors five teams.

Zubiate said although it can be more challenging, playing four-person sand volleyball has made him a better player.

"I have to be attentive at all times when playing a game," Zubiate said. "I have to be aware, run fast and cover my position."

James Chavez

James Chavez has been with the volleyball league for five years and also participates in LGBT kickball and bowling leagues.

Chavez, who works in the banking industry, said volleyball allows him to make friends with similar interests and network with other professionals.

Chavez said his volleyball team has become a close-knit group that goes out to dinner or brunch or hangs out on the weekends.

Cati Valles

Cati Valles a student at Grand Canyon University and an active duty member of the military, said she got involved in volleyball to find something fun to do outside of the bar scene and meet people.

Valles said she has grown as a player despite challenges, such as a shoulder surgery, that has limited her range of movement and depth perception issues.

She said that practicing in the summer has aided her development.

Johanna Root, a straight ally, started playing about two years ago and also plays with the Cactus Cities Softball League.

After playing volleyball in high school, the league allowed her to get back into the sport.

Root, a hairstylist, said team dynamics and communication play a major role in how well players do on the court.

Noemi Galindo said joining the league brought out her competitive nature again after playing volleyball and basketball in high school.

An office worker in the pharmaceutical industry, Galindo said volleyball gives her something to look forward to during the week.

"At the end of the day, it is about doing something you love. I love playing sports," Galindo said. "Doing something you love re-energizes you."

For more information on Arizona Gay Volleyball League, visit

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