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For Dorothy, There's No Place Like Home
by Mel Ferrand

This article shared 2242 times since Wed Sep 25, 2002
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Dorothy Tanner has spent 60 years on earth, starting Sept. 22, 1941. Were it to be calculated out, the results would show that a good percentage of those years were spent running.

She is probably running right now.

In her signature lime green shorts, Tanner has been covering Chicago's lakefront for the last seven years. However, 2002 may be the last Chicago sees of this Australian native. Scheduled to compete in the 5K and marathon at the 2002 Gay Games, Tanner will head for Sydney where this globetrotter will have come full circle as she closes the latest chapter on her life, eager to see where the next will take her.

Tanner has lived in Melbourne, London, Antigua, Chicago and even the waters of the Caribbean on various private yachts for 15 years. Yet, while Australia is Tanner's birthplace, it is not where this nomad calls "home."

Although not expressed directly in the three hours we spent together, I would guess that she would say home is where the heart is. Having led a very charmed life, Tanner says, "the key to life is that we have total charge of our destiny and my life is so fortunate because I do have that control on my journey." She further mused, "…if we lived our life by what we hear in our hearts instead of what we hear and see [ with our senses ] , we would all be happier. Once we make the connection of being responsible and awake in our journey it is really very beautiful."

Tanner's journey didn't start out beautifully. She and her twin sister, Barbara Fay, were orphaned and to this day she has no information about either biological parent. The scars that early abandonment left helped form the person she is today. She expressed a perpetual feeling of keeping herself in a cocoon to protect against the fear of rejection. While it may partially explain Tanner's lack of physical grounding, that fear hasn't paralyzed her from living nor has it hampered her determination to reach out to people. Tanner has successfully directed her energy to championing the causes of people with HIV/AIDS and to running. She does both these things with tireless energy.

Always a health enthusiast, Tanner managed to combine her desire to help people and her love for running. After participating in the NYC Gay Games in 1994, Tanner came to Chicago to visit her soul mate, Gray Vogelmann. Charmed by the city, Tanner has been living here ever since. Landing a job at the recently closed Broadway Vitamins, Tanner made an arrangement with the owner, Ron, who allowed her to do outreach to people with HIV and AIDS through the shop. Tanner exclaims that the seven years she spent at Broadway Vitamins was the happiest and most peaceful time in her life. Tanner says she tries to convey the philosophy that we should "live one day at a time and not in fear." She is a strong advocate of keeping one's self healthy through diet, nutrition and exercise.

Although very active in Chicago's HIV/AIDS community, Tanner mused that she was not as vocal as she would have liked. Needing to stay under the radar of the U.S. government was difficult for this usually outspoken advocate. She says, "I can't live in a community without being active in it. Life is about giving and enjoying that you have given." She looks forward to having the freedom to be a more complete activist in Australia.

When asked if she is a lesbian, Tanner sidestepped the issue and said she identifies herself as a feminist. She added that while she doesn't know very many straight men, the ones she knows she doesn't like very much. She finds that they tend to perceive themselves as the center of the universe and think that women should cater to them. Tanner says that from an early age she was offended by this attitude and resulting behaviors and has made a concerted/conscious effort throughout her life to be sure to inform them ( straight men ) that she will not tolerate nor comply with their demands. However she identifies, Tanner has certainly been a strong friend of the LGBT community.

Vice Co-Chair of Team Chicago and leader within Frontrunners/Frontwalkers, Tanner says she always wears her Frontrunners t-shirt when she is running and doesn't shy away from being perceived as a lesbian. Tanner tells the story of attending a CARA ( Chicago Area Runners Association ) awards dinner with fellow runner and friend, Andrew Suozzo. The only Frontrunners there, they were seated at a table with all straight women. While the women freely conversed with Andrew, not one of them would talk to Dorothy or shake her hand. To exemplify how far Frontrunners has come within the runners circuit and the strides the LGBT community has made as a whole, Tanner said just one year later, at the same banquet, Frontrunners had two whole tables, 22 attendees, she had won the Veteran Runner of the Year Award, and Frontrunners' Proud To Run t-shirt had won the CARA t-shirt award.

Tanner's personal running achievements began with her first race in the early 1990s. While living in Antigua to convalesce from a work-related injury, Tanner was encouraged by her friend, Cordova Simons, to compete in a 10K race. Tanner signed up and won. She was in her early 50s. The next stop was the NYC Gay Games and then Chicago. Tanner ran the Chicago Marathon in 1996, and 1997 was the first year she ran the full CARA circuit.

Since that time, Dorothy Tanner's name has covered the Illinois State record charts. She holds records in the female 55-59-year-old age bracket as well as 60-64. In the 5K her time to beat is 21:11. The 8K is 36:21; 10K, 44:43; 20K, 1:35:50; 30K, 2:26:52; half-marathon, 1:40:17; and the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, 3:42.

When asked how she got so fast, Tanner says, "my goal was to break existing records, so with each race, the goal in my heart was to break existing records." She includes speed training in her exercise routine and her favorite strategy during a race is to keep her sights on those older ( straight ) men on the course that she knows have faster times, keep pace with them and then pass them by.

On Sept. 28th, 61-year-old Dorothy Tanner will participate in what will probably be her last Chicagoland race, the Park Ridge Charity Classic 5K. Another area where her life will have come full circle, this was the race, in September 2001, when Tanner set her first record in the 60-64-year-old age group.

When asked about the next chapter in her life, Dorothy Tanner says she will return to Australia next month, where she knows about five people and has not seen her sister since 1987. She hasn't decided yet, but she may research information on her mother, but whatever happens, she will start each day the same, "… open my eyes, do some breathing exercises and thank the universe for letting me begin another day."

Friends of Dorothy Tanner throw her a farewell party Tuesday, Oct. 1, Bailiwick Theatre, 6-10 p.m., $5 donation, 1229 W. Belmont, ( 773 ) 262-3544. She'll be returning to her native Australia later this month, and the Chicago GLBT will miss her greatly. The marathoner has been so important to so many sports groups, and people with immune deficiencies, thru her Broadway Vitamins store.

This article shared 2242 times since Wed Sep 25, 2002
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