“You walked in the door and right there was the bar with all the butches-and I mean BUTCHES-large, leathered, staring, scanning everyone who came through the door.” The details unfold like the petals of a flower. “The walls were black … the place was really scary.” No, Lenore Beaky is not describing her first Front Runner happy hour. It was the early 1980s, the bar was The Duchess, and Beaky was poking her nose into Manhattan gay life as gingerly as the proverbial toddler might make acquaintance with the cookie jar.
Beaky remembers Gay New York before all the fabulousness and attitude, a time when the love that dare not speak its name actually kept its trap shut. There were limited options for a young gay woman-the Center was not yet established so there were only the few errant meetings, a smattering of programs for lesbians and, of course, a couple of dyke bars. Then Beaky came across a feature in a Moonie paper spotlighting Front Runner Sue Foster’s victory in a local race and the rest, as they say, is history-or more rightly herstory. One of the longest-standing members of the club, Beaky has seen and done it all, holding posts as racing captain, newsletter editor, president and perennial points award winner. Her perspective is long and lush, and it’s tinged with love, loss and (oh, yes) lots of running.
After years of treading the path up and down Riverside Drive all by her lonesome, Beaky welcomed the opportunity for team support and camaraderie. She debuted at Front Runners in the spring of 1983 but became a fixture the following fall when training for her second marathon. “It was during this time that I think FRNY changed my life,” says Beaky. “FRNY became a whole social center, running center, even political center for me.” On her first Wednesday night run that fall, Beaky strode alongside Mickey Zacuto, a woman with whom she would grow
to have a very special friendship and romantic relationship. “We discussed the Russian Revolution, socialism, and the Soviet Union-which won’t surprise people who knew us!” jokes Beaky. (Beaky still nourishes her activist bent as Vice Chair of the CUNY University Faculty Senate, the institution at which she’s an English professor, and hopes to become more active in organizations such as Amnesty International when she retires in three years.)
Back in those days, the club didn’t just run together; they were part of each other’s lives. “We had women’s brunches, Sunday runs for men and women, Thanksgiving dinners-I cooked the turkey one year. We would do the Prospect Park Turkey Trot and then eat.” Beaky can still spin off the names of the core group of women from the early 80s-Zacuto, Judy Spina, Connie Knapp and Anne Corey, Mary Tomich, Kathy Kuzmin, Debbie White, Sue Foster, Leonora Lucon and Donna Roberts, who recently passed away.
While Beaky would surely resist any den-mother designations, she can’t deny that she quickly assumed her rightful place amid the club’s nucleus of power. After a two-year stint as newsletter editor and some time as director-at-large on the club board, Beaky decided to make a go as Front Runner president. “Frankly, I ran to see if I could do it,” she says. “So one of the things I learned was that I could.” Beaky also discovered her own leadership style during her 1989-1990 reign as the club’s first (and still one of only two) female president. Coming on the heels of Jim Skofield’s presidency, she worried that she might not have the chutzpah and showmanship to dazzle the club every Saturday morning. “He was such a queen!” she exclaims, with nothing but wistful admiration and the utmost respect. When pressed to define the qualities of queenliness, Beaky offers explanation by example. Patrick Barker? HRH all the way. Michael Orzechowski? Trusted commoner. Kelsey Louie? We think he prefers princess, but, yes, there was a coronation. Mikey Benjamin? Everyday people.
Lacking the punch of flamboyance, Beaky defined herself through competence and tenacity. Inheriting somewhat of a fiscal disaster at the start of her first administration, Beaky had to make the club solvent again, an accomplishment of which she is particularly proud. She rallied the membership to contribute special donations to make ends meet and then instituted business meetings once a month to avert future financial mishaps. During her time at the helm, Beaky also had to scramble to find a new rendezvous point for the club’s Saturday morning runs. Through a tip from some members who were congregants at Rutgers Presbyterian, Beaky secured the home of almost two decades worth of FRNY meetings. The club owes the current breakfast system-what Beaky coined “The Bagel Brigade”-to her as well. And she is still a beacon of gravitas for young Front Runners who invariably hang on her every word when she speaks each year at the club’s Awards Night.
One of the burdens of longevity is carrying the weight of memory along with the knowledge that no matter how wonderful things become, they will never be what they once were. And as Pride Month draws ever nearer, Beaky remembers somewhat mistily the early Pride Runs of the mid-to-late 80s. “The race then had maybe a field of only 500 but it was OURS,” says Beaky. “And everyone, straight and gay, remembered those awards ceremonies.” Before snowballing into both a NYC marathon qualifying event and all-around racing extravaganza, the Pride Run wore the garb of a small town foot race, with everyone informally gathering under a shady crest of trees in Central Park afterwards for a generous awards ceremony and sock raffle. With increased popularity and more general public acceptance, the race lost much of its intimacy. But Beaky still runs every year. “I wouldn’t miss it unless I were injured or unavoidably away,” she adds.
Completing more than 150 NYRR races since 1987 (as far back as the database stretches), Beaky has never wavered in her commitment to the sport. “My identity as a runner is still very important to me,” she says, “and I try to race all the points races for the club.” Time and
its other thieving cohorts have stolen a bit from Beaky’s racing performances, but they’ve only burnished her warrior spirit.
“Getting older … losing mobility … Alzheimer’s … what a downer, eh?” she tosses out these inevitable and unsavory facts of life as her greatest fears but then breezily returns to the more pressing matter of cataloging memories. “I don’t think I mentioned how I led the field for one and a half laps of the 800 meters at the New York Gay Games in 1994,” she begins. “I finished right in the middle of the pack, exactly where I would have if I’d run the race the way it’s supposed to be run. However, I had the experience of leading a race-priceless.”
Yes, indeed. Thanks for poking your nose into the cookie jar, Lenore.
Provenance? Bethlehem, PA. (Moved to Brooklyn at age 14.)
Favorite Novel? Bleak House by Dickens
Gossip of Yore? “Mickey Zacuto had an incredible reputation for being a Lesbian Lothario-she went through all the FRNY women before moving on to others.”
Proudest PRs? 3:58 in the 1988 NYC marathon; 1:44 in the 1986 Brooklyn Half; 22:33 in the 5K at the 1987 FRNY Track Meet; 6:55 in the mile.
Favorite Pride Run Memory? In 1989 or 1990…when an upstate woman campaigning against laws prohibiting women from going topless ran the race topless. “She was pretty hot, as I recall.”
2008 Presidential candidate? John Edwards