Growing up in Kitchener, Ont., Gabriel Jarquin was teased and bullied for being too feminine. But he was a fast runner, and the track became his safe place. In university, he tasted freedom – but after one successful track season, excessive partying won out over training, and over the next few years, he spiralled into addiction. In his 30s he started running again, which led to finding a community of runners who helped him rediscover (and embrace) who he had been all along.
Growing up in Kitchener, Ont., as the son of refugees from Nicaragua, Gabriel Jarquin took comfort in running from a young age. Now he’s using it to support others in the struggle for self-acceptance
The 36-year-old f light attendant and 1:10 half-marathoner met his partner, Ian, in March 2020, as the world began to shutter with the spread of covid- 19. One year and four months later, they’re moving in together. “I never thought I would be in a place where I was in love – or rather, allowing myself to be loved,” Jarquin says. “I’m starting a life with someone, and I constantly have to remind myself to be present and remember how I got here.”
Finding a relationship is just one of the ways things are looking up for Jarquin: he’s running better than ever, and his new role as experience director for Toronto’s Pride and Remembrance Run is seeing him give back in a significant way, both to the sport and to the lgbtq community, which taught him the most important kind of love: self-love.
In school, Jarquin loved running, and he excelled at it. It also served as an escape from the bullying he experienced for being, as he says, too feminine. “I hadn’t yet identified myself as gay, but knew I didn’t fit the mould,” he says. “Running has been huge since I was young, because I was good at it. I would win, and that was my escape – no one could catch me. I felt safe in the running community.”
Jarquin was born in Boaco, Nicaragua, but he barely has any memory of the small city, as he came to Canada as a refugee before he was four, travelling with his mother. “We paid to come over illegally, seeking asylum,” Jarquin
says. “Somehow we made it to Niagara Falls. My mom, Maria, was in her 20s. She doesn’t talk about it much – it was quite traumatizing for her.” Her husband had come ahead a year earlier, to get set up, f lying to Toronto but knowing nothing about where he was going, with one piece of luggage. “He met a pastor on the f light who was willing to help him,” Jarquin says. “He slept at the airport his first night in Canada.” The next day he made his way to Kitchener, Ont. A year later, the unrest in Nicaragua had made air travel impossible, so Jarquin and his mother travelled by land. He lived with his parents in Kitchener until he was 17.
His parents were Catholic, but Jarquin doesn’t recall them being outwardly religious until they got to Canada. “The pastor my father met was a Pentecostal minister, and my parents became quite devoted to the evangelical church,” says Jarquin. “For many years, church was our entire life. We attended five days a week, for four or five hours at a time. My father, José, became a co-pastor. I was part of the choir, and I was a youth leader.”
But despite the church’s dominant role in his childhood, Jarquin never quite felt like he fit in. “I was very sheltered,” he says, “because, for evangelicals, most things are a sin.” He did, however, fit in at track practice. When he left home at 17 to attend the University of Toronto, one of the first things he did was join the varsity cross-country and track team. True to his high school experience, he felt comfortable. “I was running really well – actually, I remember that the senior guys were a little upset that the new kid was really good. But, the people on the track team were so welcoming – being gay didn’t matter. No one cared. I didn’t have to explain anything. I was just Gabriel, who ran fast, and that was enough.”
Upon moving to the city, Jarquin knew he wanted to shed some of his past. While growing up, his name was José, but he decided to st art introducing himself as Gabriel (his middle name). He also came to accept his sexuality, and after a successful first season with the Varsity Blues, he also started partying. “In second year I went to clubs, and drank for the first time,” he says. “I stopped running and began to party more. I’d been running since grade school, but I stopped, because I couldn’t be at the club four days a week and then at practice on Monday.”
His university partying turned into a lifestyle, and he was becoming increasingly aware that he had a problem: “At the time, I thought I was having fun, but deep down I knew I wasn’t. There was an unhappiness that I was trying to deal with through a very big social schedule.” By his late 20s, Jarquin was dealing with an addiction to crystal meth. Around this time, he also learned that he was hiv- positive.
He describes this time of his life as reaching rock bottom. “The diagnosis didn’t come as a surprise, because I was playing with fire,” he says. “In retrospect, I was being reckless. I didn’t care about myself. I felt unwanted and unloved. The decisions I was making showed that.”
Today, Jarquin manages his hiv with daily
At church, Jarquin never quite felt like he fit in. He did, however, fit in at track practice