The group will mark the milestone with a fun run starting 9:30 a.m. Sept. 14 at the Independence Visitor Center, Sixth and Market streets.
Lee Grahan, who was originally a member of Frontrunners New York, and Rik Ford, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, founded Frontrunners Philadelphia in 1983, along with Kevin Kuehlwein and Jimmy Calnan, who served as the organization’s first members.
“The group started in order to provide a relaxed and friendly place for runners of all levels to meet and exercise together,” Kuehlwein said. “Many of us liked that it provided a healthy alternative to the smoky and tense bar scene that represented a major way that many of our community met and socialized with each other.”
Kuehlwein said between 20-30 runners turn out for the twice-weekly runs.
In recent years, the rise of social media has helped guide the organization’s communication and planning.
“We have a webpage, a listserv and a Facebook page. That makes it easier to stay in contact and arrange fun Frontrunner social events spur of the moment sometimes,” Kuehlwein said.
About eight years ago, the group shifted to an informal structure, eliminating the positions of president and other officers.
“This means we have fewer meetings just for business and that we’re more flexible,” Kuehlwein said.
The group has also benefited from the rising popularity of the sport, which has generated a diverse group of members.
“One thing that’s been good is the increased interest in running over the decades, so that the support for runners in races and the number of races has increased,” Kuehlwein said. “We’ve had some great friendships forged in this club over the decades and we’ve all stayed in good shape. I love the variety of folks in the group as we’ve come to learn a lot from those who’ve come from different countries and have different backgrounds.”
With the variety in backgrounds comes a variety in pace.
“The running experience and speed does definitely vary in the group, which is good. Some people want to train more and learn a lot about running and others are fine just with the level of running they’re doing,” he said. “There’s room for all. The main thing is for people to get out there and have fun.”
Among its next organizational goals, Kuehlwein said Frontrunners hopes to send a group to Gay Games 2014 and organize more runs and trips.
He said the group is also looking to attract new members, especially women.
“Currently we rarely have regular female runners, although we would very much like to. Despite this, we’ve had several women presidents and even some women who met their partners through the group.”
Kuehlwein added that LGBT-inclusive sports groups help send a message to the LGBT and mainstream communities that stereotypes can be broken.
“I think that sporting groups are still important to the LGBT community because they’re a great way to meet friendly folks while staying or getting in shape. I also think that some LGBT folks got messages growing up that they couldn’t be strong or be athletes, so it’s great to see people disproving that by their own efforts and feeling increased confidence with their bodies and their activity levels.”
Frontrunners gather for runs at 9:30 a.m. Saturdays at Lloyd Hall, 1 Boathouse Row, and at 7 p.m. Mondays in front of the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.
For more information, visit www.philadelphiafrontrunners.org.