A shared passion for swim, bike, run is what unites clubs and members across the UK, and it’s a passion the London Frontrunners and their members also share, but there’s also an added connection between the club’s members.
London Frontrunners is an inclusive running and triathlon club for lesbians, gay and bisexual men and women, trans people and LGBT+ allies which was initially formed as a running club in 1995. The club’s growth has seen their membership grow to over 500 members including over 50 who are part of the triathlon section within the club which was set-up towards the end of 2016.
Emily Chong was one of the founders of the triathlon section, alongside fellow coach Alex Carington, and first joined the club after returning to London following a two-year stay in Australia.
“There are Frontrunner running clubs in cities all around the world,” Chong said. “So, I had already heard of them and knew about them and when I came back to London, I had split with my then-partner, so I wanted to meet more friends and like-minded people who I could train with but also have that social side to it as well.
“We all support each other, we all understand each other and the big thing for me is it has allowed me to join a club where my training buddies have also become my friends. We actually had quite a few really strong triathletes who were training but we didn’t make it official until the end of 2016 and now we have a weekly turbo session, we have at least one monthly club ride, lots of different events that members have entered and we’ve also got a training camp coming-up in Mallorca which is exciting.”
Chong’s involvement in swim, bike, run goes back to 2009 and includes representing Hong Kong at three consecutive World Triathlon Championships from 2011 to 2013.
“Before I started triathlon, I was competing in lacrosse, judo and wakeboarding,” Chong recalls. “I had a couple of injuries and surgery which led to my physio advising me to not do contact sports, so I decided to do triathlon instead.
“I wasn’t from a swim, bike or run background, so I basically started from scratch. I bought my first road bike in 2009 and, bearing in mind I had only learned to ride a bike at uni, it was all brand new. I started with a sprint tri at Dorney lake, and then qualified for the ITU World Champs in 2011 in Beijing, then New Zealand and London in the years after.
“I went on to do longer distance but had a back injury, so I took two years away from triathlon and just did swimming and then moving back to London I started coaching and then, from there, Alex and I were chatting about triathlon and decided to set-up a club within London Frontrunners.”
Swim, bike, run is not the only thing the members of the London Frontrunners have in common, with the majority of their members connected to the LGBT+ community in some form.
“I think if you want to get a group of people to train together then you need more than one thing in common,” Chong commented. “For most clubs, it’s geographical location and running, whereas for us, it’s being LGBT and running and that’s how we’ve created that sense of community within the Frontrunners.
“For us, I don’t think it was a case of being formed out of necessity, it was more about creating a community for the existing triathletes in the club. I think a lot of people do ask if there is a need to have a separate LGBT club? I would say yes for the role model and visibility side of things.
“In the past there has been a need to have a safe space, but I think in 2022 it’s more about visibility. I think it’s important for people who may be scared about coming out or sharing how they feel to see us in our full rainbow kit and to see us at races being visible because it’s important to have visibility and role models.”
Being involved in the London Frontrunners has meant much more to Chong than just the training and physical activity.
“I think when I first moved back from Australia, I didn’t have a job, I had some friends, so from my point of view it was like integrating back into society,” Chong said. “If I had done it without a club then it would have been a really slow, slogging process, but with a club you’ve immediately got like-minded people there who are happy to support you.
“It’s open to anybody. We have a lot of allies, we have people who feel particularly attached to LGBT people, there are some people who have children who are LGBT or some people like coming to the safe environment we’ve created for everyone because that’s what we pride ourselves on.
“We’re primarily a community who have a passion for triathlon and running. We travel to races together, exchange advice and support each other every step of the way.”
Chong is one of the panellists in a video discussion with other members of the swim, bike, run community celebrating LGBT+ History Month which will be shared on British Triathlon’s digital platforms on 28 February.