Maggie Murphy has completed the annual Proud To Run lakefront race twice, yet missed the last two due to military duties.
She's doing something different for 2014 Pride.
The 25-year-old Chicago resident, who is a systems integration consultant and is openly gay, is now stationed in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, with the Illinois National Guard as a military intelligence analyst. She's been overseas since February and isn't expected back locally until Thanksgiving.
"We are having a 'Pride Night' on base [on June 28] that will include three events," Murphy said via email. "First, we are showing a documentary called 'Coming Out Under Fire' about experiences of homosexual service members during World War II. Then we are conducting an open forum on LGBT experiences in the military and the recent changes to policies and benefits. Finally, we'll be running a 5K [race] at 9 p.m.
"The terrain will be mostly sand and gravel with some moderate changes in elevation. We are waiting to do it late at night to avoid the sun and 110-plus degree temperatures [during the day]."
She said it still likely will be about 100 degrees when the race starts.
There will be a Zumba-inspired dance warm up, and multi-colored glow sticks for every participant to hold during the run, plus portable DJ stations at the water points "to try and replicate the energy of a Proud To Run race," she said.
"The goal for holding a race here is to recognize diversity in the U.S. military, empower LGBT service members to feel proud of their contributions, and to highlight the strong community of allies we have. I also hope that it's a little slice of home for LGBT service members who normally celebrate Pride. It is tough being so far away and missing out on events back home, but we can do little things to make us feel connected to each other and to our friends and family at home."
There are 50 runners registered as of June 22, though Murphy predicted 150 will ultimately run the raceand most will be wearing official Proud To Run shirts, shipped from Chicago event organizers.
"We are happy to support Maggie and her fellow service members for being 'Proud To Run' in Kuwait," said local organizer Tim Henney. "Donating Proud To Run race shirts to a group of LGBT runners serving our country was the easiest decision the board made this year."
Most days in June, Murphy and her fellow military members are battling day-time temperatures ranging from 110 to 120 degrees, and dropping to lows of about 90.
"We are also in the season for Shamal, which is a northwesterly wind that causes sandstorms over the Gulf states," she said. "So if the heat doesn't get to you, the sand in your eyes, ears, and mouth will. I would say we've gotten pretty acclimated to the heat since February, but it still can be draining from time to time. The heat won't peak here until August, so we can't complain yet, but there's an emphasis on staying hydrated. During the run we'll have medics and lots of water to ensure everyone's safety.
"For me, [the event] is more of a solidarity 'fun run' than a challenging race. That said, running here is always a challenge because of the heat and the sand."
Murphy runs and volunteers with an organization called Back on My Feet in Chicago, and has completed countless races5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons and full marathonswith "people who are working hard to get their lives back on track and using running as a means to do so," she said. "My favorite races are always the ones I do with them, especially big milestone races like marathons. I don't think anything compares to the Chicago Marathon for me in terms of excitement. And mile 8 [through Lakeview] is always a highlight, of course."
She has run the Chicago Marathon for the last five years, and her best time is 3 hours, 45 minutes.
"Since I've been in Kuwait I've participated in a 12.5-mile ruck march, five 5K [races], one half marathon, two triathlons, and one dualthlon. But [the] most strenuous event was a 26.2-mile march in honor of the service members who [took] part of the Bataan Death March. In full uniform, with a 35-pound rucksack on my back, I finished the march in 5 hours, 20 minutes, placing third overall out of nearly 200 participants."
Murphy said she "really wanted" to observe Pride Month in a formal way because there is so much to celebrate this year. "Since last June, we've seen the repeal of DOMA and then an extremely fast process of extending full-range benefits to same-sex marriages and families," she said. "I'm extremely grateful to serve in a post-Don't Ask Don't Tell era and more than anything I just wanted a way to highlight the institutional progress that has been made over the past few years and show that there is a supportive community in the Army."
Murphy said her superiors have been more than supportive of their local Proud To Run.
"Overall, there has been a lot of support and I've been very encouraged by the response from my leadership and peers," she said. "It has been a community effort to put this together, and even those who are hesitant to acknowledge or embrace LGBT issues have not impeded my ability to organize an event that will give people a venue to express pride in who they are."
Murphy said the Proud To Run race in Chicago is always "a blast."
"I love the group dance warm-ups and the collective energy on race morning; there's always this Christmas Eve feeling on the Saturday of Pride weekend," she said. "I ran PTR in 2012 when I had just moved back to Chicago and I still wasn't out to my friends or family, but I was beginning to reach my breaking point. After Pride 2012 I started dropping some not-so-subtle hints to my family. I wore my Proud to Run shirt a ton that summer, probably to begin making a statement that I couldn't quite verbalize yet … which was that I was finally comfortable in my own skin and not afraid of people knowing who I really was."