By Rya Jetha. Bay City News.
Runners took to the steep streets of San Francisco in Sunday's 45th San Francisco Marathon, which organizers said was bigger, more inclusive and more accessible than ever.
The race, from San Francisco's Embarcadero to Sausalito and back, was the first marathon in California to have a separate "Non-binary +" division designated for non-binary, bi-gender, agender, two-spirit and gender fluid participants, as well as the traditional male and female divisions.
The race weekend also featured a program for participants with disabilities.
The marathon had 25,000 registered runners, including virtual participants from around the world, making it the largest San Francisco marathon to date.
Cal Calamia, a San Francisco-based high school teacher and advocate for non-binary inclusion in running, won the non-binary division of the marathon with a time of 3:00:00.
Calamia was thrilled that the marathon organizers adopted more inclusive race categories.
"A race is just a representation of society in this small way, so, if your registration choices are male or female, and you really don't completely identify with either of those things, it just reinforces the idea that who you are is kind of wrong," Calamia said. "So, simply adding one more option makes a big difference."
Now that the marathon is over, Calamia said they hope the decision to include a non-binary category in the San Francisco Marathon is the beginning of a systemic change in California and U.S. racing.
"I hope the San Francisco Marathon team will approach other races and say, 'This is what we did, this is how we did it, these were the results and you should try it,' that will take some time of that struggle and that work from trans and non-binary people," Calamia said, adding that they are also working independently to get other races to expand their categories.
"I have my sights set on the California International Marathon, a big one in Sacramento. They haven't been very responsive to me yet, so I'm waiting to hear from them," Calamia said.
In addition to adding the non-binary category, San Francisco Marathon organizers also worked with sponsors to create programs for runners with disabilities and those who have overcome adversity.
Sagirah Ahmed Norris completed the marathon and was part of the "Not Yet Finished Marathon Team," including runners who had the opportunity to complete the 26.2 miles in San Francisco after being unable to finish other full marathons.
Norris took up running after his father passed away in 2016 and decided to run the Chicago Marathon. During the race, however, he began to feel pain and parts of his body went numb. After dropping out of the race, Norris began visiting doctors to resolve the problem. He was diagnosed with primary progressive progressive multiple sclerosis (MS).
"I was in shock," Norris noted. "I wasn't even 30 years old, I had a young family and the doctor told me that in five years I was going to be dependent on a wheelchair."
Norris came up with a wish list of things she wanted to do. On a trip to Ireland with her husband, she came across a National Multiple Sclerosis Society magazine that talked about hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, an intense chemotherapy treatment that eliminates and then regenerates the immune system. Norris decided to undergo the treatment.
"I went into treatment with a cane, and at the end of 30 days, I was out on my own," Norris said of his treatment success. "I started thinking, 'If I learned to walk with physical therapy, could I learn to run again with more physical therapy?"'
This weekend, Norris traveled from Houston to run the San Francisco Marathon to advocate for others with MS to learn about their treatment options and try hematopoietic stem cell transplantation if it is the right treatment for them.
Norris completed the marathon, along with teammates Ashley Zirkle, who returned to running after donating his kidney to a stranger, and Mike Zampella, who has a rare degenerative eye disease.
"We added these divisions and awards to our 45th marathon because it was about time," said Lauri Abrahamsen of Jumping Fences Inc, the marathon's organizing company. "We hope this expansion of gender divisions and our runners with disabilities program will inspire more people to join the running community and feel like they belong."
The marathon organizers partnered with Jake Fedorowski, a board member of Seattle Frontrunners, an LGBTQ running club with chapters across the U.S.
Fedorowski created a guide for non-binary inclusion by having conversations with industry experts and helping organizers of the Eugene Marathon in Oregon begin offering a non-binary category.
"I realized I have a resource here that could be formalized and shared with race directors and people like me, non-binary runners," Fedorowski stressed, and began conversations with San Francisco Marathon organizers.
The marathon took place on Sunday, with people from all over the city and the country running from the Embarcadero in San Francisco to Sausalito and back.
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