Two runners will start the BMO Vancouver Marathon on Sunday as an engaged couple but by the time they cross the finish line 42 kilometres later, they will be married.
Along the way, Anthony Johnson and James Makokis will stand tall as gay, aboriginal role models in a public display of commitment and love. And imagine, most runners are satisfied with a personal best time.
Johnson and Makokis, 31 and 35, will say their vows under a hand-hewn poplar arch near the lofty diamond ring sculpture in English Bay, wearing matching tuxedo jackets over shorts and sneakers in the company of their closest relatives and thousands of marathoners.
“Yes, we are romantics,” said Makokis, who is Cree. “We are also role-modelling for people of our nations and other communities.”
For the wedding, both of their mothers will lay down a carpet of cedar in an expression of unification while, like flower girls, they also drop petals along the pathway. Johnson’s sister will sing traditional songs in several indigenous languages and play a rattle. Makokis’s father will smudge the grooms.
Once married by a justice of the peace, the men will run the remaining 10-km circuit around Stanley Park with a gilded partnership and weddings bands.
Spectators wishing to celebrate the couple are encouraged to bring flowers and other organics.
“This is the city we fell in love in last year,” said Johnson of Vancouver. He moved north from the U.S. to live with his fiancé outside Edmonton where they run a technologically advanced, conservation-minded, agrarian-based homestead. “We’ve always been adventurous in our relationship."
When they moved into their current home, they found a small inukshuk in the yard and now, by coincidence, their wedding will take place near the 20-foot inukshuk on the shore of English Bay. "It's another token of the universal love that has been given to us," said Johnson.
As two-spirit aboriginal men, the couple is pleased to declare their love out in the open for all the city to witness while also promoting exercise as time well spent together. Talk about relationship goals.
“Doing this in Vancouver was an opportunity for us to be visible, as gay men, as two-sprit men and as indigenous peoples, as young people. It’s important for us to have visibility,” said Johnson, who is Navajo and spent his teen years in Phoenix before graduating from Harvard and then moving to Brooklyn.
“We have the opportunity to say to young queer out there, they can have whatever they want in their lives as well. To show indigenous people that you can exercise, you can run, you can move your body, you can be well, and you can take part in something and have friendship and relationships along the way.”
Johnson said he had never run more than eight miles, while Makokis has completed the Vancouver marathon half a dozen times since 2002. Even their first road race together was eventful; they ran in the New Year on a 10km race course in Phoenix. In case you didn't catch that, it was a midnight run.
Running brought them closer to each other and the immense beauty of the places they call home, especially since, as dedicated professionals, they often trained at night, in the dark outside through a prairie winter in -30 degree temperatures accompanied by snowdrifts and starlight.
“The land is completely still, everything is quiet, the snow has this blue glow and then sometimes the Northern Lights would be out,” said Johnson. “Running at night is really magical.”
They wondered why more runners do not head out after dark. It's one more example they're setting.
Exercising together also solidified their connection, said Makokis, a family physician who serves two Cree communities and also runs a practice dedicated to transgender patients.
“I feel running is a really good metaphor for life, for relationships. It takes work for it to work. If you don’t put in the effort, then it won’t turn out well in a lot of the cases, so I really value the time that we get to spend together when we are training because we are doing something positive so we will live long, healthy lives together."
The BMO Vancouver Marathon is Sunday, May 7.