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Content Warning: This article discusses suicidal feelings.
Kirsten Beverley-Waters knows from personal experience that running has life-changing powers. The Portland, Maine, yoga teacher, fitness coach, and lifelong runner is hoping running a very long distance every single day for more than three weeks can make a big difference in just one person’s life. On June 4, she embarked on what she hopes will be 22 consecutive days of running 50 kilometers (31.1 miles) to raise money and awareness for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.
Beverley-Waters, 37, has been a vocal and passionate advocate for the LGBTQ+ community as an adult, but suffered from anxiety and depression about her own identity when she was a teenage runner. She came out as a young adult and has emerged as the empowered queer, nonbinary individual (Beverley-Waters uses both she and they pronouns), athlete, and businessperson she is today.
If successful in her 684-mile journey, Beverley-Waters will surpass the existing Guinness World Record for consecutive days running 50K for both women (11 days) and men (21 days). Her ultimate goal isn’t about a prodigious record—“the only pace is forward”—but she is hoping to break down gender stereotypes and assumptions attached to athletic achievement. She also wants to help LGBTQ+ young people find strength, comfort, and clarity in their true identity.
“If nothing else happens from this running, other than the people who reached out to me and said, ‘This is the first time my child has felt seen,’ I’ve done something right,” she says. “If there is one kid who isn’t thinking the only answer is to take their own life, I’ve done something right. I would do all of these runs for one child. And I don’t say that thinking so highly of myself, but instead just knowing the impact that one person can truly make.”
The Trevor Project estimates that at least one LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic and with worldwide mental health at a decline, Beverley-Waters set her watch timer to go off every 45 seconds for the duration of a 50K training run. It not only served as a devastating reminder of the significant impact of depression on LGBTQ+ youth, but it also motivated her to develop the consecutive 50K world record challenge during Pride Month.
Beverley-Waters was inspired to start running from her father, who was an accomplished marathoner but died suddenly of a heart attack when she was 6. She ran in middle school and high school to keep a connection to him, although she admits there were times when she stepped away from the sport while struggling with her own identity and what other people would think of her admission of being queer. She went down a dark and painful rabbit hole that included thoughts of self-harm, and she frequently considered suicide.
“My entire running career in my youth, when I wanted so desperately to be this phenomonal runner, I lived in my head and was afraid that someone would realize who I was and that I would get kicked off the team,” she says, recalling how an openly gay girl on her team was bullied and ostracized so much that she attempted suicide four times.
But running gave her strength and positive reinforcement, so she continued coming back to it. It was the one space she could freely let her thoughts roam, bubble up, and release in a healthy way. She walked onto the track team in college, but again had to step away when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 21.
She was faced with another challenge to her identity when her doctors wanted her to undergo a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy as a precautionary measure. She refused, and went through radiation treatment, chemotherapy, and several surgeries to overcome two recurrences of the disease.
“The first thought that went through my mind was that I didn’t want to do it because they want to take everything that makes me a woman,” she says. “That’s an interesting place to go—to associate those ‘parts’ specifically to women. There are plenty of women who don’t have uteruses and don’t have breasts for any number of reasons and are no less women. It led to some dark health issues, and it’s been a journey for sure.”
Amid those struggles, she came out—and began to blossom into the person she always wanted to be. Embracing her true self gave her strength, confidence, stability, and, eventually, the desire to share her journey with others. She earned a degree in exercise science and became a yoga teacher and fitness coach known for teaching movement through the lens of mental wellness. She also developed a wellness retreat company and became both a motivational speaker, an LGBTQIA+ wellness coach, and authored a book called Struggle Guru.
Along the way, she’s used her platform to help others, and that’s exactly what her 50K challenge is all about. In addition to wanting to reduce suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, she also wants to make sure athletic opportunities for trans kids are protected and not restricted by state or federal legislation and political opinions.
As for the running, she heads out every morning to traverse a variety of loop courses she’s measured in the Portland area. Most include a combination of roads, trails, sand, and bike paths. To document the record attempt, she’ll have to meticulously record every step and submit the video and data to Guinness World Records in order for it to be ratified. That means she’ll have to carry a pack with a variety of recording devices and back-up batteries, plus the nutrition and hydration supplements she’ll be carrying.
She’ll be supported by her wife, Korrie, an osteopathic physician who specializes in manipulation acupuncture. Korrie helped Kirsten pre-plan meals and logistical details, and will play a big role in her daily recovery.
“Through my training, I received a lot of really emotional emails and messages from parents whose children are currently battling with their mental health as a child who came out as queer or trans and how grateful they are for this event,” Kirsten says. “And that’s why I’m here. I don’t need a record, I will always go out and run on my own. I don’t need that as motivation to lace up my shoes and go out the door. But I know that it takes something as big as going after a world record in Pride Month for some people to have a conversation about LGBTQ mental health. So that’s why I am doing this.”
You can support Kirsten Beverly-Waters’ 50K world record attempt by donating to The Trevor Project and tracking her progress on Garmin LiveTrack (follow @AthleteKB).