#GCN100KinMay encouraed people to get up and active while raising some much-needed funding for yours truly-Ireland’s national LGBTQ+ press. The challenge was a huge success with €8700 being raised.
Beyond the financial side, it also highlighted how important it is for our community to get active and stay active for our physical and mental wellbeing. Running and walking has been a lockdown lifeline for so many of us, including Amy Fay who raced through the 100km in just 12 days to easily win the challenge. While the prize of the Life Style Sports voucher was nice, she really saw the benefits of getting out and moving.
“Just with lockdown and stuff, especially with my mental health and everything, I was getting myself into a bit of a slump,” she says. Amy works for Life Style Sports in Blanchardstown and like so many people found herself off work for most of the last year and grappling with the uncertainty that Covid-19 brought.
She decided to take this unexpected time off to build up her fitness. “I told myself I’m gonna be able to run a 5k by the end of lockdown and just really got dedicated to it. So I was already doing that and then I saw the 100k in May as the final push and like, the last nail in the coffin, about getting really determined and really fit.”
It was a similar story for Sinéad Whelan who works for Life Style Sports in Athlone. “It’s so easy to go home, sit on the couch and get into a rut,” says Sinéad. “You can get in on yourself- you feel lazy. Once you get up and go for that 20 minute walk, you just come back a different person.”
Sinéad is a regular runner and whizzed through the 100km in just two weeks.
It was not as straightforward for Kianan who works for Life Style Sports in Limerick. “I didn’t think that I’d actually be able to do it,” he says. “Like, I go for a run every now and again. But when Life Style and yourselves posted this, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna do this’ because it’s something that’s close to me. So I was like, let’s do it, I’m pushing myself.”
Growing up, Kianan played a lot of sport but once the pandemic hit and everything shut he fell out of it and has since decided he probably won’t return so he can focus on other things in his life. Sport is something he values and enjoys but he had mixed experiences as a closeted gay person playing team sports.
“You would get slurs and stuff like that. And not that often but it happens,” he says. He noticed there was a big difference when playing GAA than when he would compete in athletics. “GAA it’s a ‘manly’ sport, it’s very stigmatised still, like, ‘Oh, it’s just a straight male sport and that’s it’. Especially where I’m from in Kerry, that’s just the way it always was. If you’re gay then you do something else. You don’t play that sport.”
He thinks it’s to do with the culture. There have been tentative steps to address this, such as last year, when the first LGBTQ+ GAA team, Na Gaeil Aereacha, was set up. However, when Kianan read the comments on Facebook under an article announcing its creation, it was full of hate towards LGBTQ+ people. “Why is it like that? You know, it was really shit to be honest.”
He would like the association to be more visible in their support of the community to signal to LGBTQ+ people that they are welcome to play.
Amy agrees that sport can sometimes be a difficult environment for LGBTQ+ people and she feels it is important to see a major sports brand like Life Style Sports show their support. The community remains underrepresented in sport in Ireland. According to research commissioned by BeLonG To Youth Services, this may be because sport is still a place where young members of the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland do not feel accepted. In the organisation’s Life in Lockdown report, only 46 percent of LGBTQ+ young people said they were active and 23 percent said their physical health was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.
Amy thinks that while it is not perfect for LGBTQ+ women in sport, the environment is much more inclusive than in men’s sport. “I struggle to name even one county footballer who is gay because I think even if a gay fella, when he’s younger, could be really talented at football, he gives up because he’s scared about the repercussions of what might happen, or what might be said to him going up through the ages and stuff like that. So I think that’s something that sports really need to focus on.”
The lack of representation and role models in the men’s game can lead to further alienation.
“If you had some at the top level of the sport that are out, then other people that are in the sport with them can see ‘Oh, you can still make it to the top level of sport’,” Kianan believes. “So you can be inspirational.”
Sometimes there are barriers to even take up a sport or go for a run. Some people are worried that people will stare at them and judge them. Sinéad firmly believes in adopting the attitude of ‘who cares’? “You’re walking down the street and thinking what are they saying and then it grows and it gets bigger and bigger in your head,” she says. “Just believe in yourself and who cares? Once you’re happy, look after yourself and once you have family and friends around to support you, what more do you want?”
Amy wants to see people get involved in exercise no matter their fitness level, and urges anyone to throw on their runners and go for a jog. “I think if you’re self conscious, just throw in your earphones. What I always say to people, because I used to be really self conscious, is when you’re out, how many people do you notice going on a run?” The answer is probably none and Amy says if you do not notice people when they are out running why would people notice you when you are? “No one’s going to look at you and think anything. So go and do it!”
Happy Pride and massive thanks to all at Life Style Sports, who also kindly provided seed funding of €3,333 for the campaign in honour of GCN’s 33rd birthday.