It started with an email. Jake Fedorowski had decided that they no longer wanted to run in races that didn’t offer a non-binary division. They would email race directors to inquire if there was an option for non-binary runners, and more often than not, the answer would be “no.” It wasn’t that race directors were unwilling; they simply had no idea what to do. It was from that simple beginning that the Guide to Non-Binary Inclusion in Running was born.

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Jake wasn’t into sports growing up. “When I was a kid,” they recall, “my parents had me trying all the different sports. I played hockey and baseball and soccer and tennis and I never really stuck with any of those and at the time I didn’t really realize why. I think I just was like, ‘Oh, you know, I just don’t like it.’ Looking back, it’s because I was different and I didn’t feel like I fit into that culture or that community.”  Running held even less appeal. “You couldn’t pay me to go out and run a mile. I always dreaded in elementary school having to run the mile or the pacer test; that was the worst day of the year for me.”

In college, though, they needed a way “to refresh or reset” their mind, and discovered that running did that. The other benefit when they started running, Jake says, was that “It was something that I didn’t have to do with the team, I didn’t have to do with a group of people. I could just do it by myself and therefore it was safe. It was something I could enjoy; I didn’t have to worry about what other people thought of me.”  

They had gone to college for musical theater performance, but discovered the production side of theater and went into opera stage management when they graduated. Working in legitimate theater has always been an uncertain way to make a living, a situation made worse by the pandemic. Jake came to the realization that they wanted to live in Seattle and build a career outside of the arts. They made the move and now work with a real estate investment firm. “I’m able to experience and enjoy the arts as a patron and as someone who loves the art form,” Jake says,  “but I don’t have to worry about the daily stress that goes into working within that industry.”

Settling in Seattle allowed them to become part of a stable community, which isn’t really possible on the road. They joined the board of the Seattle Frontrunners, an LGBTQI+ running and walking club which is part of the International Frontrunners.  The membership was “very white, cis, gay” and Jake joined the board with “the objective of trying to expand our membership to include the entire queer spectrum.” They started advocacy work internally, but soon realized that the running industry in general was not particularly “inclusive and welcoming of the non-binary experience.”

The work that Jake had already done within Seattle Frontrunners made them feel that, “‘Wow, I kind of have a platform; I have a voice now. I have a club behind me that would help support and promote and push this work to the forefront of people’s minds.’ I think that kind of gave me the courage to do that and really kind of speak up and start to create change.”

They ultimately created the Guide to Non-Binary Inclusion in Running to assist race directors in planning more inclusive events and to “embolden non-binary runners (and allies) to have more conversations with race directors regarding non-binary inclusion.” It was clearly a much-needed resource: a 2021 study by the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law found that there are 1.2 million non-binary adults aged 18-60 in the United States, which makes up 11% of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual population. 

“Within the racing community, people are always talking about, ‘Oh, well, there aren’t any non-binary runners,’ or ‘I’ve never heard of any,’ Jake says. “And it’s like, ‘Well, that’s because a.) a space hasn’t been created for them, so how would you know,’ and b.) ‘There are non-binary runners; you just may not know it. They may not have been comfortable expressing that identity to you.’ The reality is we do exist both inside and outside of the running community.”

Jake hopes that the guide will help not only race directors, but also allies of the non-binary community, giving them the knowledge they need to have conversations about inclusion. People are often afraid to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing, but, Jake says, “I always tell people, especially with the work that I’m doing and with this conversation, that  you’re going to make mistakes and making mistakes is not a bad thing. I view mistakes as educational opportunities and ways for us to deepen our understanding and our connection to each other.” 

“If you don’t know what someone’s pronouns are, or if you don’t know how someone wants to be identified, or whatever the question may be, ask it,” they continue. “I think generally speaking, we are totally open to being asked those questions; we want to be asked those questions, because it means that the person cares and wants to to learn and and find the right way to to interact or communicate with you.”

Jake also asks that people refrain from making assumptions. “In your interactions with everyone, whether it’s at work or with your family, continue to look at the way in which you are making assumptions based on someone’s clothing, body type, pronouns, name, etcetera. That is not a way in which we should be interacting with others because we don’t know, based on those, the experiences that they’ve been through. I just encourage people to, if you don’t know and if you have a question, instead of making the assumption, just ask or do the research. Make the effort to do the work and find out what the answer is.”

The Guide to Non-Binary Inclusion in Running will help make finding those answers easier for everyone. You can download it from Jake’s website, nonbinaryrunning.com, or if you’re more of an audio/visual learner, they go through it step-by-step on Instagram and Tik Tok.

resources:

Thank you to Allbirds, Mile 20 Mental Training, and Athletic Greens for sponsoring this episode.

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“Thank you” to Jake.  We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.

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