The idea that athletes with a different sexual orientation could have a long rich history in Western civilization, that their stories should be told and re-told, was not one that came to me overnight. But it did have deep roots in my past.
When I was a kid on a Montana ranch in the 1940s, sports achievements — like everything else in my world — always ended up being good stories told around the dinner table. The whole family were jocks in their way, so bits of "sport history" blew around in my world like tumbleweeds on the wind.
First and foremost was horse racing. My greatgrandfather Conrad Kohrs and greatgranduncle John Bielenberg loved sporting horses — they brought some of the first Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds into the Northwest in the 1870s, and carried on a keen rivalry with copper king Marcus Daly, matching their horses against his champion Tammany (they always lost). When I was a kid, my home town still hosted a traditional race meet, where my horsy girlfriends and I met a woman we idolized — Janet Thomson, one of the first woman racehorse trainers in U.S. history. When I knew her, she was training for Montana stable-owner Tony Sneberger. I can still see her standing high in the irons, galloping Sneberger's best horse — Montana Count, son of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.
My dad's sport passion was surprising — sailing. When Con Warren was young, he had worked on sailing vessels in the merchant marine for a couple of years before coming home to ranch. His achievement was helping to bring sport sailing to the mountain lakes of the Northwestern Rockies. These inland waters, swept by summer thunderstorms, make for choppy and dangerous sailing, so my Dad imported a type of cat-boat that was popular on the choppy coastal waters of the East.
My mother, Nellie Flinn Warren, was the Annie Oakley type — deadly aim as an archer and skeet shooter. But in high school, it was basketball — she was star forward of the Deer Lodge girls' team. Our favorite dinner-table basketball story about Mom was the night of a home game around 1929. The girls nearly started a riot among local fans when they made their dramatic entrance, loping from the dressing room out onto the court. Why? Because they hadn't donned the smothering bloomers and middy blouses that were de rigeur for girls. Instead, they were the first in state history to wear (gasp) shorts and T-shirts. Mom was the hellraiser who had pushed for this "modernization" of uniform.
In those days, I lived with my secret knowledge that I was somehow "different" from other girls, following a relationship with another girl from 8th grade into high school. My favorite sport, which I loved even more than horses, was running. But girls were barred from track and field in most high schools and colleges in those days.
Beyond that, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. My life would be more about the stories, not the competition itself.
Between 1968 and 1969, when I was in my mid-30s and women's long-distance running was developing in the U.S., I finally took my history shot as a runner. As one of the first group of women marathoners to compete actively, I helped force the Amateur Athletic Union to move the limit on women's distance from 2.5 miles to 50 miles, same as the men. I was one of the people who helped make this happen on the political front. I served as national publicity director for the Road Runners Club of America, as a member of the Metropolitan NY AAU Long Distance Committee, and as PR director for the first two New York City Marathons, which started as a showcase for women marathoners. Last but not least, I covered women's distance running for Runner's World... which meant that I covered the races from "inside." I ran fourth in the 1971 NYC Marathon, which scored women officially for the first timein history. My personal best over the distance was 4:20.
So, no, I wasn't a world-class runner — but I was still competing in races in the NY area when I came out in 1974, with publication of my novel The Front Runner and a statement to the New York press about my sexual orientation. My last marathon was that year, when I had to drop out with knee problems.
The whole experience gave me some humbling insight into the enormity of what the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered greats of history had faced in their time.
In 1975 I met NFL football player Dave Kopay shortly after he published his own bestselling book, The David Kopay Story. Dave and I have remained friends since those days.
As the years passed, I met or corresponded with other out figures, including Olympic gold medallists Mark Tewksbury and Greg Louganis, Canadian jockey John Damien, German boxer Wilhelm von Homburg, distance swimmer Diana Nyad, UCLA track star Bryan Fell, baseball umpire Dave Pallone, equestrian Robert Dover. I also met LGBT coaches. First and foremost: Tyler St. Mark, former lifeguard and swimming coach (he coached Louganis when the latter was a kid in one of Tyler's diving classes) who later became my business partner in Wildcat Press. Also Helen Carroll and Pat Griffin (basketball), Eric Anderson (track and crosscountry), Dan Woog (soccer), Jim Atkinson and Greg Varney (boxing), Mike Muska (athletics), Skip Mackall (hockey and figure skating — as well as individuals on the production end of gay sports events, like rodeo producer Al Bell.
All these people, and others too, had amazing stories. In turn, their stories inspired me to look farther back in Western history, and I was surprised at the rich findings there. Many of the mainstream sportswriters I talked to — men like former World Series pitcher Jim Bouton, boxing columnist Thomas Hauser, Kevin Baxter of the L.A. Times, later the Miami Herald — were aware of the rich vein of ongoing LGBT achievement in sport.
It was time to get beyond the basic "coming story" and tell these personal epics with a depth and breadth in a way that hadn't been done before.
In 2003, when two gay sports entrepreneurs, Jim Buzinski and Cyd Ziegler, launched their successful online magazine, Outsports.com, I went to them with a proposal for a series of essay-type profiles about LGBT pioneers in sports. Jim and Cyd immediately agreed. From 2002 into 2006, as I developed the series, an approach evolved for me, that interwove biographical facts with the rich texture of the times, the changing sport.
My thanks to Jim and Cyd for giving me this opportunity.