By Natalie Mink
I set out on Saturday, September 24, at 7:30 a.m.—my mom by my side the whole way—to complete a 5K walk in Houston’s Gay 10K. What made this race particularly special was that it was not only my first one ever, but it highlighted two very different parts of what makes me, me. First of all, I should mention that I have mild Cerebral Palsy, and so walking in this race wasn’t the easiest of tasks. I wanted to prove that I could do whatever I set my mind to, including walking 3.2 miles.
After hearing about it through an email from The Montrose Center, I signed up for the Gay 10K in June, and I’ve been working with a trainer at L.A. Fitness for almost four months. I said to myself, “Natalie, you can do this. Don’t let the fact that you have a disability and the fact that you’ve never run any sort of distance stand in your way of actually doing what you put your mind to.”
The second part is, of course, my identity as a gay woman—which is just as much a part of me as my disability is. This race meant so much more to me than just being the first one I’d heard of to have “gay” in the title. This 10K was one where I had the chance to really show what I was capable of. One of the things that really stood out to me was the sense of community I felt from the participants—everyone seemed to know each other in some way, shape, or form. I was instantly put at ease because, although it was my first “race,” it didn’t feel like anyone was competing for first place. The best way I can describe it was that it felt like I was coming home, except it was to a place I’d never been and with people I’d never met.
The Gay 10K came to life when Stephanie Warren, the founder of the event, wanted to make a positive impact on the LGBTQ+ community in Houston. I caught up with her after the race, and she shared her passion with me. “My dream was to make this event something that was healthy and positive for the LGBTQ community,” Warren says. “I love running, and we have never seen a race that impacts our community or gives back. I’m a social worker by day, so I just have a passion for helping.” Warren’s passion and drive for creating something bigger than herself showed in how she interacted with the participants following the race—her joy was infectious and contagious.
I finished the 5K in an hour and 28 minutes. There was a point on the way back when I was about ready to pass out. My legs felt like jelly, my quads burnt with fatigue, and I wanted to stop, but I kept going because I couldn’t let myself down. There were times when people would pass me, clap, and tell me that I was “inspirational” for doing what I was doing. It didn’t take me long to figure out why—I was the only physically disabled person on the 5K course.
At first, it made me mad that people were clapping for me and calling me an inspiration. I mean, I was walking at three miles an hour—and to me, that isn’t anything to stand up and cheer for. But this race showed me many things, and one of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that inspiration can come from anywhere. The friendships I’ve made through participating in the Gay 10K will last a lifetime.
When I was younger, I thought there was no way that the two biggest parts of my identity could ever intersect. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. I may be an inspiration to others, but when I left the Wortham Center that morning, I was the one who felt inspired.