A Juneau running club’s first official nonbinary event was just another race — except for the always emotional tribute to the teenager whose memory the event is dedicated to.
About 30 people participated in the annual Ben Blackgoat Memorial Run that started at the beginning of Perseverance Trail on Saturday morning. None of the racers registered in the new nonbinary category and it wasn’t a noticeable element of the event, unless a person chose to interpret pre-race remarks by its organizers as such.
The race debuted in 1997, the year after Blackgoat, 17, a local high school cross country runner, fell to his death after slipping on a patch of ice along a dangerous part of the trail. Breea Mearig, a friend and teammate of Blackgoat when they were in high school, told racers just before the start of Saturday’s run he “was both a very ordinary teenager and a very extraordinary teenager.”
“He was extraordinary in the way he kind of existed outside of social hierarchy,” she said. “He was able to make everybody feel welcome. You could always feel like you were Ben’s friend, and that’s why he influenced so many people in the short time that he lived in Juneau and in his short life. He also knew that running was more than just running as fast as you can, that running builds community and causes you to push your boundaries, and helps you to learn so much about yourself and other people.”
The weather for the race was mild and partly cloudy, with some participants reading a display board featuring news stories about Blackgoat near the starting point. The runners competed in two-, four- and seven-mile categories (and were able to decide how far to run while the race was in progress).
The race sponsored by Juneau Trail and Road Runners (JTRR) grew over two decades to become the most popular trail run in Juneau before the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated 60 to 80 people typically participating. The first post-pandemic resumption of an in-person race last year had only about 10 participants due to rainy weather, so this year’s field was another step closer to resuming normalcy.
Paul Desloover, the race’s organizer since it began, said some build-up time may also be needed before people participate in the nonbinary category of JTRR’s events. There was one person who registered as nonbinary in last year’s local marathon and one nonbinary entrant in a race earlier this year before JTRR made it an official category.
The debut of the new category was timed to occur during Pride Month, but Desloover said that didn’t allow much time for public awareness of its existence.
“I think over time it’s going to be an opportunity for people,” he said.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.