There’s no doubt we have all felt the warm and friendly welcome of parkrun. So many of us experience a lovely sense of belonging to the parkrun community. For others, the inclusivity of parkrun means much more. It means being recognised and respected as an individual. For Ada Macey, this is most definitely the case. Ada is a transgender parkrunner who has felt nothing but overwhelming support and acceptance from the parkrun community.
Ada began parkrun at Chermside in Brisbane when it launched almost 3 years ago. She has not always been a runner and never considered herself to be particularly sporty either, but was keen to lose some weight. She began with the couch to 5km program and quickly developed a love for running. When parkrun launched so close to her home, she didn’t hesitate to jump on board. She discovered the running community and began to realise that parkrun was so much more than a 5km weekly run. Ada acknowledges, “before coming out as transgender, running and parkrun played a huge part in helping me through some of my darker times. I often refer to running as ‘moving meditation’ as its a wonderful way of calming my mind. After a run, I was in a better place to start the day.”
Ada came out to close family and friends in 2017 and started to transition. Transitioning is the process transgender people go through to begin living as the gender which they identify as. Ada says, “I was nervous and scared. Coming out is very confronting and as trans people, we don’t know whether we’re going to lose our friends, family or career. I was incredibly lucky though, as my friends and family have been universally amazing! They have supported me the whole way.” And Ada has found nothing but support from the parkrun community as well, saying, “parkrun has been a part of my life now for coming up on 3 years and I have made many great friends over that time. And just like everyone else, they have been there for me with love and support. Even the larger parkrun community, who see me running and volunteering, have shown me nothing but positivity!”
Despite this overwhelming support, Ada has, of course, had many challenges. One such challenge was signalling her gender at parkrun. Generally, transgender people can signal their gender through cues that are culturally attributed to that particular sex. For example, trans women may wear feminine clothes such as skirts and dresses, jewellery or have long hair; whilst trans men can signal their gender by wearing pants, shirts and more masculine styles and colours. Active wear and running gear is sometimes quite gender neutral and Ada found it difficult to signal her gender at parkrun easily. Ada says, “I was worried about how that would play out, there were a few stumbles, but people have been super supportive.”
Another challenge for Ada was going about changing her parkrun profile. Ada approached parkrun quite early on before the hormone therapy had really had much of an impact on her body. Ada states, “I contacted parkrun Australia and had a chat to them. It turns out, I might be the first person to have asked how to manage this! Pre-transition, I would finish before most of the female finishers, and I didn’t want my old times pushing other females out of their well earned finish positions. But I didn’t want to give up my effort towards my milestone t-shirts either!” Ada rightfully did not want to start an entirely new parkrun profile, but was also being respectful of the results of other parkrunners. Essentially, Ada didn’t want to ‘steal’ first place position from other female runners. Eventually it was decided that all existing runs that were completed by Ada prior to transition, were to be marked as “assisted”.
Ada is very open about being a trans woman and feels there’s a very supportive vibe amongst the women at Chermside parkrun. However, she is no longer able to keep up with the fastest females. Part of hormone therapy consists of testosterone blocks which changes athletic ability and has dramatically slowed Ada’s times. Ada reflects on slowing down saying, “it has been quite a struggle because I put a lot of time and effort in to getting my times down. It’s been much harder than I thought it would be! I knew that my times would slow, but without the benefits of testosterone, I lost muscle mass, strength and cardio capacity. Every run was harder and slower and it took me longer to recover. It’s taken me a while to adjust to my new normal. I had trouble adjusting my expectations and I kept comparing myself to my previous efforts.”
These days Ada is focusing on the social side of parkrun and is busying herself volunteering as a Run Director at both Chermside and Kedron. She says the parkrun community has been unbelievably accepting and welcoming. She has not received any negativity except perhaps when she has been mistakenly misgendered. In these cases, Ada understands that transitioning occurs not just for her, but for her family and friends also. Her transition is not an instant process, but a journey, so it is understandable that mistakes with using the correct pronouns are made. Ada believes however, that she is so fortunate to have family and friends who are so open minded. And she feels so thankful to belong to a community like parkrun that is so accepting of diversity.
Ada is grateful that she found parkrun. Getting up early every Saturday to run or volunteer gave her something to look forward to every week. Particularly when Ada was struggling to find direction in her life, parkrun enabled her to make friends, exercise and contribute. Now Ada is in a much better place mentally and she hopes that sharing her story will aid the transgender community. Ada states, “I think that visibility is one of the strongest tools available to us when it comes to increasing understanding. My hope is that by being visible as a transgender woman involved in sports, leading an active lifestyle and being connected to my community, I can help raise awareness and understanding.” Ada is no longer hiding or pretending to be someone else. She is an incredibly courageous woman to speak out and help educate people about transgender people. She is proud of who she has become, and the parkrun community has played a small role in her journey.
The people of parkrun are not afraid of those who present differently. The parkrun community is made up of warm-hearts, kindness and acceptance. Ada’s story is proof that parkrun is inclusive to the extent of recognising human dignity.
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