For years, the racing community has been woefully behind in real conversations around gender identity and inclusion. Over the past few years we have seen a good number of races – like the Philadelphia Runner /runhouse Philadelphia Distance Run and the DC Front Runners Pride Run- make some considerable strides to dismantle the binary system.
The truth is, aside from some incredible programming from registrars and timers like Josh Merlis of AREEP, muscling of event directors like Ann Hupp of Mettle Events, and now industry leaders like RunSignUp, the binary system perpetuates in race registration, timing and scoring, and awards designations from the professional to amateur level. The question still remains – how do we as an industry and allies break down this system to truly be inclusive and welcoming?
Roughly six years ago, I sat on a panel (only woman – shocker) in front of 100 national and international road race timers discussing the future of race timing. I vocalized our need to re-examine what timing really is and what we do and who we do it for. I was chided from the audience for challenging the core “value” of timing (splits, finishes, PRs, records) and deflected misplaced comments that I simply “wanted to give everyone a medal” (wrong and try harder next time please).
I asked this industry to rethink our purpose: that we are scribes of people’s -all people- accomplishments and that we need to re-examine what value we bring to the consumer. What does accomplishment really mean to the individual and how do we acknowledge that?
Times on a printout don’t reflect the complexities and nuances of an individual’s accomplishment, often wrapped up in a moment at a finish line but hard fought for some over a lifetime.
Don’t get me wrong a finish time is important (see my business partner Chris Farley’s recent accomplishment at NYC Marathon). However, my point was and still is if we focus only on a numerical output that acknowledges “winners” in an antiquated binary system or continue to over-inflate the value we place on finish times and rankings we are missing an opportunity to bring people in.
The majority of runners scroll, scroll, and then scroll some more to find their “result” often with their name assigned to what can be sensitive and vulnerable information, including gender. Are we really servicing all our customers with kindness and a whole heart when we expose or celebrate only part of the story? I acknowledged that my query was somewhat existential yet still important to ponder.
After that panel, where I was met with a good number of blank stares and a few dozen eye rolls, Bob Bickel the founder of RunSignUp, the industry’s leading race registration platform, approached me and bolstered my shaky self-confidence confirming that I hadn’t totally missed the point. Since then, we have been long-time colleagues and he is one of the individuals in our space that I go to for counsel and ideation. My respect for him only grew this week.
Fast forward to this weekend where we are still struggling with systemic issues in race registration and timing in identifying non-binary participants. Yes, there are “work arounds” but why is this still the case in today’s era for events looking to be intentional in welcoming all?
My dear friend, Kyle Northrop, won our non-binary category at our race this past weekend (they agreed to be mentioned in this post). Through “work arounds” we were able to acknowledge their gender identity and podium win. If you know and love Kyle like I do, Kyle is not someone who should be “worked around” but “worked in” to our community for their contributions to our channel. Their gender was posted incorrectly in the results, with not much recourse without a system-wide programming change. Kyle was gracious but my team was committed to see Kyle as they are. For Kyle, being unabashedly themselves has been an ongoing struggle and an accomplishment that should be celebrated by all who supports them and yes- that also means race scoring.
We elevated this error and also the ongoing debate and conversation to Bob and his team on Sunday night. By Monday, planned upgrades were being accelerated across the RunSignUp platform https://runsignup.blog/2021/11/08/non-binary-option-for-registration/
It will take changes in over 1000 places in the registration and scoring platform code to make this monumental shift for expansion outside of the binary. If that isn’t inherent systemic bias please tell me what is. RunSignUp is pushing for evolution to acknowledge all runners and literally using their platform to do so. As allies it’s up to us to keep challenging the narrative and I’m proud to amplify the efforts of partners like RunSignUp.
We aren’t where we need to be as an industry and a community especially as it relates to discrimination of non-binary and trans athletes. However, acknowledgement of the responsibility of those who hold power to enact change, as evidenced by the industry’s leader in this space, is a major step forward.
Thanks, Bob. I’m so proud to know you.
Special thanks to our registrar, Gail Hughes, and race director, Lisa Reeves, and our Pacers Running team for pushing the conversation.
Kathy Dalby the the CEO of Pacers Running. For more information visit runpacers.com.