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When it comes to sports, Jules Bursee and Kristina Nungaray have done “a little bit of everything.” Nungaray was a marathoner, competitive swimmer, and synchronized swimmer. Bursee had played soccer and hockey, and had a strong background in crossfit and weightlifting. But one thing the two had in common was a major bucket-list item: finishing a triathlon. So when Bursee found a local sprint-distance event marketed as “ideal for first-time triathletes,” she naturally reached out to her best friend.
“We decided to train for our first triathlon together, operating under a ‘if you’re in, I’m in’ mentality, even though we only had a little over a month to train,” Nungaray says. Nungaray helped her friend learn to swim, and Bursee repaid the favor by teaching Bursee how to bike. Little did they know, they were training for more than just the race itself.
“During our training cycle, and immediately after posting our pictures at the finish, we each began receiving messages from people who had always wanted to attempt something like a triathlon, or some other big and scary race,” Bursee says. “But they didn’t feel they fit in because of one thing or another: weight, speed, gender, et cetera.”
They knew firsthand what that felt like – as two queer athletes, Bursee and Nungaray noticed it was hard to find a community of other LGBTQIA+ triathletes to train with or cheer on at races. If they could create that welcoming community on their own, could that remove the intimidation factor for others?
The question inspired the two to launch The Queer Collective, a running club for LGBTQIA+ athletes and allies in Jersey City, NJ. Encouraged by the enthusiastic response and rapidly-growing turnout to group runs with the club, Bursee and Nungaray offered athletes another opportunity to go after their big goals: They would offer a free tri program called Say Maybe, to guide athletes through the process of training for and racing their first sprint triathlon.
There are plenty of places where people can access free training plans and advice for their first triathlon, but Bursee and Nungaray add their experience as queer athletes to address many of the questions and concerns new LGBTQIA+ triathletes may have, whether it’s finding the right gear for a transgender athlete or attending a race as a crew to bolster the confidence of people who are worried they might not fit in. It’s all about empowerment, Bursee says:
“Because we wanted to build community through physical activity and movement, it became clear to us that we would use whatever platform we had to promote LGBTQIA+ visiblity in endurance racing, and encourage others to take up space, especially in sports or endurance endeavors that they feel are not meant for them.”
Though Bursee and Nungaray are the coaches leading the group, it’s truly a team effort for all involved. Community is at the heart of everything Say Maybe does, from their weekly no-drop training runs to post-workout social hours.
“We also believe that community yields resiliency, and therefore all of our activities emphasize a group dynamic so that no one is truly on their own,” Nungaray says.
The community nature of the training program naturally lends itself to a high degree of accountability, with group members showing up for workouts on even the hottest days of summer. “Sure, the miles matter, but not as much as the camaraderie that they share logging those miles,” Bursee says. “It’s really something special. We have watched our runners arrive back at the finishing point of the weekly run, and voluntarily wait for all of the other members to finish, waiting for them with bottled water and smiles.”
It’s in these moments that the Say Maybe founders know they’re achieving their goal of empowering LGBTQIA+ athletes to be a part of the greater endurance community.
“On our last weekly run we had a new member who had only been living in Jersey City for two weeks,” Nungaray says. “Upon moving, he immediately googled how to meet queer friends in Jersey City and came to our club. He enjoyed the experience so much that he says he’s going to be a regular. It is moments like that that solidify why we started this club.”