Vancouver Frontrunners formed as a result of the 1982 Gay Games I in San Francisco. The founders got to know one another at Team Vancouver meetings beforehand and of course in San Francisco as well. Afterwards, they talked about forming a chapter of Frontrunners in Vancouver. The first run was held on Saturday, January 15, 1983 at 11:00am from Brockton Oval in Stanley Park. The founders were Erik Graff, Damian du Plessis and Rick Woods. Erik and Rick are once again members (Damian lives in the Fraser Valley). The club held regular runs in Vancouver on Wednesdays and Saturdays. By 1984, they were going so well that 30 people showed up for a run.
The club participated in events in Bellingham, Seattle, and Portland and helped stage the 1984 Vancouver Gay & Lesbian Summer Games. Tom Waddell, the founder of the Gay Games movement was so impressed with these summer games that he started to encourage Vancouver to host the Gay Games in 1986 or 1990.
Just at the peak of Vancouver Frontrunners’ success, AIDS hit and as with gay associations everywhere, it hit hard. One of the runners was a doctor and the club held meetings so that he could keep his fellow Frontrunners up to date. Within months, club members were dying. At this time, the club had a core group of about 30 runners who participated regularly. About a dozen died, including most of the club’s leaders. Some survivors left the club because it was too hard to stay.
By the late ’80s Vancouver’s lesbian running community had stepped in and they were keeping Vancouver Frontrunners viable. Vancouver’s lesbians were also instrumental in making the 1990 Gay Games III in Vancouver a success.
In the early years, the club was mainly a men’s organization but women were always welcome. However, the turnout of women at any particular run was usually small and they never seemed to get the critical mass required for regular, active participation. In turn, when the women were running the club later on, they always made the men feel welcome.
In the ’90s, the club was for the most part an informal organization. A handful of runners would meet for regular runs. After Gay Games VI in Sydney in 2002, several regular runners decided to restructure the group. They wrote up club rules, elected a board of directors, started to advertise the club, and commissioned a logo. The club was re-branded as Vancouver Front Runners (three words). In 2010 the club decided to incorporate itself and register as a legal society: Vancouver Frontrunners Club. At the 2010 AGM, all members of the old club became members of the new club. The old club voted to move all its assets to the incorporated club and one of our original founders, Rick Woods, moved to dissolve Vancouver Front Runners. The club now operates as Vancouver Frontrunners Club.
What’s a frontrunner?
By the early ’80s, a few American cities had started gay running groups using the frontrunner name based on the 1974 novel by Patricia Nell Warren called The Front Runner.
In the words of the author, “You have two kinds of runners: kickers and front-runners. . . . The kicker likes to dawdle in the rear of the pack, letting the others carry the burden of setting the pace. He saves himself for a last-lap sprint to the front. But the front-runner goes out in front right away, and tries to stay there and burn off the rest of the field.”