Len Tritsch’s Lasting Lessons

This year, Pride Foundation was saddened by the passing of Leonard Tritsch, a beloved member of the Northwest LGBTQ community. Len was a loyal Pride Foundation supporter who first connected with our work more than 20 years ago.

He was a passionate advocate for health and athletics, and the dedication and tenacity that he brought to the track was evident in everything that he accomplished in his life.

Born in 1925 in rural Minnesota, Len was an outstanding student. He began his lifelong journey as a competitive runner in the eighth grade.

A self-described “health nut,” Len focused his professional career on health and wellness education. For years, he worked as a public school teacher and coach in Minnesota, later teaching health education at the University of Oregon. He published several books focused on inspiring positive health behaviors, and founded a weeklong health promotion conference in Seaside, Oregon. Len also served on the Oregon Governor’s Council for Aging and helped inform the development of a housing facility for low-income seniors. His incredible contributions to the field of health and wellness promotion were honored with an award from Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

Len drew upon his considerable knowledge of health and wellness to connect and support the LGBTQ community. As an out gay leader in the community, Len took on the role of mentor, coach, friend, and family to almost everyone who knew him—helping others draw out their strengths and pursue their passions.

Though Len served in leadership for many LGBTQ organizations—including Mature Friends, a social group for gays and lesbians over 40, and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association—it was his role as coach for the Seattle Frontrunners, a running and walking club for the LGBTQ community, where Len’s legacy can be most deeply felt. The Frontrunners became Len’s family over the course of the 20 years he served as coach, and even those teammates who did not know Len closely were motivated by his determination.

A handful of Frontrunners first met Len Tritsch when they were preparing for the 1994 Gay Games, set to take place in New York City. This group asked Len if he would coach them for events on the track. Some of the group had never competed on the track before the meeting with Coach Len. It was during the initial training sessions that the team first heard Len talk about the “chicken mind”—the notion that preparation for a race was just as much, if not more, mental preparation than it was physical. Len held that if a runner believed they would win and trained well, they could do so—even against the fiercest competitor.

This philosophy served as the backbone of Len’s coaching and, more broadly, his outlook on life. Behind every instruction on form, there was another lesson about letting go of fear. “Relax that face!” He’d yell to his team as they ran by him on the track. Though he was a tough coach, he was also extremely supportive of every member of the team, regardless of their abilities. He knew that teams include both fast and slow runners—each with unique strengths and weaknesses—and it is up to the entire team to support one another to the finish line.

Len believed so wholeheartedly in the united strength of the team that he created scholarships to support the travel expenses for Frontrunners who couldn’t afford to go to the Gay Games. Determined to get the whole team of 30+ runners attending the Games every four years, he devised a variety of plans to fundraise so everyone could afford the trip. He organized dinner and house parties to support the scholarships. He had team members sell glass paperweights. Yet, not all of his fundraising schemes worked out. Several Frontrunners recall a year that Len had the team try to sell bottles of “Perfect Water” at track meets, work and various athletic events. The bottled water did not sell very well so the team members ended up purchasing the over-priced cases of water themselves because they didn’t want to disappoint Len. In their sales and on the track, Len’s teammates describe their hard work as being as much for Len as for themselves.

That sense of commitment defined Len’s relationship with his team, and not just at practice or in competition. Len’s team members stood by his side during some of the most difficult moments of his life, especially when, in 2013, Len suffered a debilitating stroke.

His friends and team were there, helping Len work to regain some of his mobility. In the last year of his life, Len was consistently supported by his close circle of friends and chosen family—the Mature Friends network, Frontrunners teammates, and other people that he had inspired to live fully and with dedication throughout his life.

We remember Len for his determination, wisdom, and enduring belief in community—his belief that, in being courageous and letting go of fear, we ward off the “chicken mind” in our daily lives. A belief that we are stronger together.

As a result of a generous gift from Len Tritsch’s estate, Pride Foundation will award a scholarship in his honor to support an LGBTQ or allied student whose studies focus on health and wellness.

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