In July 1982, after the success of the first Gay and Lesbian Pride Run, Frontrunners Chicago was officially established as a club by Peg Grey, Rob Williams, and Jim White. The club took its name from “The Front Runner”, a best-selling novel of the time written by Patricia Nell Warren. In the novel, running is a symbol of gay and lesbian pride.

Since then, our club has grown steadily. We have continued with distinctions and honors over the years.

In 1989, as more walkers joined the group, Frontwalkers was added to the club name. We officially became Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago (FR/FW Chicago).

In 1990, FR/FW Chicago began its long history with the Chicago Marathon by staffing a water station. (This association has grown over the years. For ten years, our club was awarded the ‘best water station’ by the by the Chicago Marathon Press and marathoners. Our water station has been given world wide publicity and has become nearly legendary. Each year, our water station has a theme which includes music, costumes, decorations and even male cheerleaders.

In 1991, FR/FW Chicago began hosting the Proud To Run event. Proud To Run was founded by Metropolitan Sports Association but was logically turned over to the running and walking group. (Proud To Run is the annual gay and lesbian pride race which is held the Saturday of Pride Weekend. Since becoming our event, Proud To Run has expanded and now includes a 10K, 5K and 2 mile fun walk. There are more than 1400 entrants. Proud To Run is a CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) Registered Race and USATF (USA Track and Field) sanctioned).

In 1993, the readers of Windy City Sports, a local, independent sports magazine, voted us ‘best running club in Chicago’. The readers also voted the Proud To Run 10K, one of the top 3 in Chicago by the readers of Windy City Sports.

In 1994, we appeared on the cover of Windy City Sports and Gay Chicago Magazine.

In 1995, Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago was inducted into the city’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame . (Chicago is the only city in the world with a city sponsored Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame).

In 2000, we organized a large joint fun run/walk with the Lincoln Park Pacers, our straight counterparts who also meet in the park. This was the first time that the two running groups had ever combined for a planned event. After the run, both groups went to the brunch where we stayed and enjoyed multiple beverages while just relaxing with each other for the rest of the morning.

In 2001, Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago hosted the 20th Anniversary Proud To Run.  In twenty years, Proud To Run raised over $100,000 for local AIDS and Breast Cancer agencies and educational groups. Also, Mayor Daley officially announced June 24, 2001 as “Proud To Run Day” in the City of Chicago.

In 2006, our club hosted the IFI meeting on July13 and 14. IFI is the International Frontrunners Invitational which is a gathering of representative from clubs around the world. It occurs every two years in a different city.

Also in 2006, our club also had many members participating in the Gay Games VII which were in Chicago. Many members participated or volunteered.

In 2011, Proud To Run celebrated its 30th anniversary. At the 2011 Pride Reception, Proud To Run was honored by Mayor Emanuel as well as many heads of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.  We received a Special Recognition Award: “Recognizing 30 years of outstanding contributions, through the field of sport, to Chicago’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, charities, and service organizations.”

Also in 2011, Proud To Run received a proclamation declaring June 25, 2011 as PROUD TO RUN DAY IN CHICAGO by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Currently, we have about 150 members. We are one of the largest running and walking clubs in Chicago. Our membership includes all levels of ability, from competitors to conversationalists.  Our ages span from 22 to 72. During the summer, there can be over 80 people at a fun run/walk.

We work to strengthen our ties with the city of Chicago as a whole. To this end, club members make valuable and visible contributions to events that include volunteering for the Shamrock Shuffle, JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, AIDS Walk, Chicago Distance Classic and the Chicago Marathon.

FR/FW Chicago’s involvement at these events strengthens the presence of the gay and lesbian community in our city and presents a positive image of our community to all citizens of Chicago.

We belong to the USA Track & Field association and to the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA). Some members show their competitive side and compete in the CARA racing circuit. FR/FW activities are regularly covered in local running and walking publications such as Amateur Athlete and Chicago Runner magazine.

The network of Frontrunner Clubs (www.frontrunners.org) includes 30 international chapters in countries including Canada, Australia, France, Israel, Japan, Great Britain, and South Africa. In the United States there are clubs in all major cities, and many smaller ones. Members are made welcome at any club they visit, and clubs often provide housing for visitors. The Chicago club regularly sponsors activities with Frontrunner clubs from other cities, which helps build a spirit of camaraderie in the worldwide gay and lesbian community.

Each month FR/FW organizes social, athletic, or volunteer events for its members. In addition to the weekly fun runs and walks, these activities provide a healthy environment for FR/FW members. They also provide a non-threatening and supportive entry into the gay and lesbian community for people who are coming out.

Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago serves the gay and lesbian community by promoting activities related to running and walking. We provided a healthy and supportive outlet for gays and lesbians to meet, exercise, and socialize. Many members have found this to be a beneficial addition to their personal growth and lifestyle.

In 2012, FR/FW Chicago celebrated our 30th anniversary.

By Corbin Woodling