Our Past

OUR PAST

What’s in a Name?

International Front Runners is an affiliation of LGBT running/walking clubs that have organized in many of larger cities around the world. Inspired by Patricia Nell Warren’s novel The Front Runner, the first FrontRunner club began in San Francisco in 1974, and other FR clubs quickly began forming in the United States, then in Canada and abroad.

International Front Runners took a major step in becoming a more formal body by drafting and adopting a Mission Statement and Constitution at the International Front Runner Forum in September 1999.

There are currently about a hundred Frontrunner clubs around the world, and they are as diverse as where they are situated. Some of the clubs have hundreds of members, some startups only a few. Many include walkers, not just runners, and at least one club has many more walkers than runners. Some of the clubs elect officers, have bylaws and a membership dues structure, many don’t. Most have regular weekly runs/walks and many also get together at local restaurants after their runs. And the fact that there are three different spellings of the name – FrontRunners, Front Runners and Frontrunners – is just a further example of the clubs’ diversity.

Frontrunners in Chicago

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. In 1989, as more walkers joined the group, Frontwalkers was officially added to the club name. In 1990, FR/FW Chicago began its long association with the Chicago Marathon by staffing a water station, an association that continues to the present day. For ten years, our club was awarded the ‘best water station’ by the Chicago Marathon Press and marathoners. Our water station has become legendary through world-wide publicity Each year, our water station has a theme which includes music, costumes, decorations, dancers, and cheerleaders.

In 1991, FR/FW Chicago began hosting the Proud To Run, the name under which the original Gay and Lesbian Pride Run which provided the catalyst for the formation of Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago was operating at that time. Proud To Run was originally founded and operated by the Metropolitan Sports Association (now known as CMSA), but was turned over to FR/FW Chicago as the official running and walking club for the LGBT community of Chicago. Since becoming our event, Proud To Run has expanded and now includes a 10K, 5K and 2 mile fun walk. The event in 2016 drew over 1,600 participants and over 200 volunteers. Proud To Run is a CARA Registered Race and USATF sanctioned.

Both FR/FW Chicago and Proud to Run have received recognition and awards throughout their history. Some notable examples are:

1993 – FR/FW Chicago is voted ‘best running club in Chicago’ by readers of Windy City Sports

1995 – FR/FW Chicago is 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

2001 – Proud to Run celebrates its 20th anniversary and receives a proclamation from Mayor Daley declaring June 24, 2001 “Proud to Run Day”

2006 – FR/FW Chicago hosts the International Frontrunners Invitational, a gathering of representative from clubs around the world occurring every two years in a different city

2011 – Proud to Run’s celebrates its 30th anniversary and receives a Special Recognition Award from Mayor Rahm Emanuel “recognizing 30 years of outstanding contributions, through the field of sport, to Chicago’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, charities, and service organizations” as well as a proclamation declaring June 25, 2011 as “Proud to Run Day”

2016 – FR/FW Chicago hosts 40+ members of the Paris chapter of Frontrunners running the Chicago marathon along with two of their cheerleaders thereby raising the profile of the Chicago chapter and promoting the vision of Frontrunners as a global community of LGBT runners and walkers.

FR/FW Chicago is proud of its city and has worked throughout its history to strengthen the bond between the club and the city of Chicago as a whole. To this end the club makes valuable and visible contributions to events and organizations such as the Shamrock Shuffle, the Chase Corporate Challenge, the AIDs Run/Walk, Girls on the Run, and Back on My Feet. 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.

Notable Alumni

Andrew Suozzo, CARA Hall of Fame Inductee

Andrew Suozzo

On Saturday, February 6, 2016, longtime FR/FW Chicago member Andrew Suozzo was inducted into the Chicago Area Runners Hall of Fame; he is the first member in our club’s history to receive this honor.

Induction into the Hall of Fame is exclusively performance-based. It requires a score of thirty points: 5 for first place, 3 for second, 1 for third in the annual age group circuit scorings of a runner’s ten best races. Thus, the fastest schedule for induction would be six years for all firsts and the slowest thirty years for thirty third places.

Among his many races in the past twenty years, he has two very fond marathon memories from 1999, when, at age 53, he managed two sub-three-hour marathons: the first was the Jenny Spangler Trustmark Marathon (4/25/99) in 2:57:36, at a 6:47 pace, his marathon PR) and the second, the Chicago Marathon later in the same year. At the Jenny Spangler Marathon, he came in first in his age group and placed 12th overall. He remembers being “high” over the race for almost two months. Though he experienced excruciating cramps at the finish, pains so bad that he thought his hamstrings would tear themselves apart, he couldn’t contain his happiness. But he needed to prove to himself that this wasn’t just a fluke or the good luck of a tail wind, and was able to do so at the Chicago Marathon that fall in 2:57:55 running with his very good friend and house guest, Eugène Bréon, then president of the Paris chapter of Front Runners, who also managed to stay under three hours. Thanks to the generosity of race director, Carey Pinkowski, Eugène and Andrew were both able to go to the executive tent and enjoy a splendid brunch as they both celebrated their sub-three hour runs.

As many club chapter members know, Andrew also writes about running and so he is particularly proud of winning the “best article prize” from the Popular Culture Association for “The Chicago Marathon and Urban Renaissance,” which was published in the Journal of Popular Culture (2002-2003). CARA awarded him the “Hal Higdon Prize for Journalism” in 2006 for his book, The Chicago Marathon (University of Illinois Press, 2006). Outside of running, as a French professor, he was also profoundly moved when the French government, in 2012, named him an “officier” of the “Palmes Académiques”, a Napoleonic order of merit to recognize academic services to France.

In July, Andrew relocated to California to enjoy retirement in his birth state. He is now an active member of the San Diego chapter of Front Runners, which he has found very friendly and supportive. Since his arrival, he has run four races: the Pride 5K, America’s Finest City Half-Marathon (billed as the largest half-marathon west of the Mississippi), the AIDS 10K, and the Carlsbad 1/2 Marathon. He has won his age group in all of them. Carlsbad was his first race at age seventy and to start out on the right foot, not only did he defeat the the 22 other men in his age group but he outran all fifty-three men in the next age division down (M 65-69) and all but two the one hundred and seven men in the M 60-64 division. He placed in the top 12.5% of males over all and in the top 9/10th’s of 1% (45/5,817) of the age-graded field (gender neutral) of all race participants. He hopes to do a lot more running in the years to come.

Andrew encourages Chicago FrontRunners to visit San Diego. He assures them that they will receive a very warm welcome.

Eurika Otto, Former Club President

Eurika OttoMembers of our club who know Eurika Otto (now Eurika Strotto) might already know that she has been battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for some time now, and will soon take advantage of California’s recently enacted Right to Die law.

Eurika was a club president of FR/FW Chicago in 2001 . She was a very active member for many years before moving to San Diego and became active with that club.

For anyone who knows Eurika, it’s hard to imagine this superwoman becoming incapacitated. However, it’s no surprise that she has faced this daunting fate with bravery, authenticity, and heartfelt gratitude for her life.

A local San Diego TV station, KPBS, has done several wonderful interviews with Eurika and her wife Nita. Members are invited to watch these interviews. Our hearts and thoughts are with Eurika and her family.

3-part broadcast from December 2015: www.kpbs.org/news/2015/dec/09/aid-dying-law-comes-california-2016 

Recent broadcast from May 27, 2016: video.kpbs.org/video/2365766559 (17:50 through 23:00)

Peg Grey, Co-founder of Frontrunners Chicago

The following is a compilation of data and text from tributes to Peg Grey, written by Tracy Baim in Windy City Times (www.windycitymediagroup.com) and on the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame’s Web site:

Peg Grey, one of the most important and pioneering activists in Chicago’s LGBT community, died February 24 of complications from cancer. She was 61.

Peg Grey was instrumental in increasing the visibility of gay and lesbian athletic activities in the Chicago area, increasing the inclusiveness of both men and women in competitive and recreational activities, and increasing the promotion and visibility of Chicago area gay and lesbian athletes in national and international sporting events.

Peg was the creator, coach, motivator and player in many areas of athlet- ics, both on the field and in organizing committees. She was committed to providing opportunities through competitive athletic activities as a way for gay men and lesbians to foster positive self esteem as athletes and as mem- bers of Chicago’s gay and lesbian community.

One of Peg’s most long-lasting accomplishments was founding The Race Against AIDS (now Proud to Run) in June 1982 as way for gay men and lesbians to celebrate their pride as athletes on the day of the Pride Parade.

The race was a great success, and as a result Frontrunners Chicago was estab- lished a week later by Peg, Rob Williams, and Jim White. Peg was the race director for Proud to Run from 1982 through 1989, and she participated in every Proud to Run from its beginning. At the 25th run last year, Peg brought t-shirts from all 25 Proud to Run events and hung them up for all to see

Another of her major contributions was the encouragement of greater participation of lesbians in athletics. She was instrumental in creating Chicago’s first women’s sports divisions within previously male dominated sports organizations. In doing so, she and her colleagues created women’s leagues for basketball, softball, tennis and volleyball in 1983, bowling in 1985, racquetball in 1987, and football in 1988. She also helped form the Women’s Sports Association, and published the newsletter Women Together in Sports.

As a member of Chicago’s gay and lesbian community for over a decade she was active in numerous organizations. These include serving as a board member of the Gay Athletic

Association and of the Metropolitan Sports Association (1981 to 1991), assisting in the development of the annual Chicago Pride Week Invitational Bowling Tournament, and in 1989 serving as the first female Co-President of the board of directors of the international Federation of Gay Games. In 2006, the Federation made her an honorary lifetime member.

Peg founded Team Chicago Arts and Athletics in 1983, which later became Team Chicago. She and Dick Uyvari were the first co-chairs of Team Chicago in 1985, prior to Gay Games II, and they helped get athletes to that international event. Grey was one of Team Chicago’s delegates to the FGG since 2000. She stepped down as delegate in 2006 when her medical condition worsened.

“As a delegate Peg participated actively on the Federation’s Outreach Committee and Women’s Outreach Subcommittee, as well as the Sports Committee,” said Paul Oostenbrug, Team Chicago’s co-chair. “She pushed the Federation to establish an Outreach Mission at its Annual Meeting in Cologne Germany in 2004. ‘The Federation of Gay Games’ Outreach Mission is to distribute information and provide scholarship assistance that will bring participants to each Gay Games; along with these efforts, the FGG will encourage continued development of the international gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender sports and cultural community.’”

Another passion for Peg was work on inclusion for senior athletes, and she was instrumental in making sure Gay Games VII in Chicago had senior divisions in several sports. “Because of her efforts, 20 of the 32 sports at the 2006 Games had specific age categories and there were new age categories in several team sports,” Oostenbrug said. “In addition, she worked with Chicago Games, Inc. to publicize a number of low-impact sports that are suitable for the less active — sailing, pool/billiards, and darts.”

As a Chicago teacher, Grey also helped organize LGBT educators, especially through her involvement with GLSEN.

Peg was born May 15, 1945, in Chicago. She received her BS in Elementary Education from Chicago Teachers College, and an MA in Physical Education from Northern Illinois Uni- versity. She worked for 35 years in the Chicago Public Schools in elementary physical education. Peg had endured multiple myeloma (a cancer that begins in plasma cells, a type of white blood cell) for many years.

[Bill Greaves compiled this for the FRFW newsletter with permission from Tracy Baim, Paul Oostenbrug, and the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.]