Jevon Patrick gazed at the finish line a long city block away and expressed concern.
"It's just a pretty far distance," he said. "I used to be a champion sprinter, but this is different."
For one thing, Patrick hadn't sprinted in 10 years. For another, he'd never done so in high heels.
Sporting a size-11 pair of black shoes adorned with gold bows, the 37-year-old Patrick joined 15 other participants Saturday afternoon for the High-Heel Race, a goofy contest that launches the annual weekend-long Baltimore Pride festival.
He didn't win, but then he didn't fall on his face, either.
"It's just really a fun kickoff to the block party," said Trevor Ankeny, president of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore. "This is a party atmosphere, and it's kind of fun to have men running in high heels as entertainment. Kind of gay entertainment, when you think about it."
This weekend marks the festival's 35th year, and Ankeny noted encouraging developments for the area's gay community. He pointed to the opinion issued by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler stating that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere should be recognized in Maryland, and the possible repeal of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"I just think there is an optimism that exists right now in this community," Ankeny said. "People are really kind of excited, see some upward movement."
On Saturday, they got to see some horizontal movement.
Race emcee Donald Young did his best to rev up the crowd. "Boy, have we got something in store for you," he shouted to spectators, who lined North Charles Street from the race's starting point at Read Street to the finish at Eager Street.
Scott Whalen, 21, a recent University of Maryland graduate with a theater degree, signed up spontaneously, sliding a water-stained pair of red shoes with faux rhinestones over his white ankle socks.
"They're not so comfortable," he conceded, "but I've got a strategy." His plan was to take high steps, in order to avoid catching his heels on the pavement. He figured the straps on his shoes would help keep them attached to his feet.
In a switch from prior years, several female runners signed up. Among them was Whalen's friend, Lee Gerstenhaber, 21. She was enticed by one of the prizes: a bottle of champagne.
Then there was Patrick, the erstwhile sprinter. A native of the Virgin Islands, he said he once qualified for the Pan American Games, ran in the Penn Relays and could at one time cover 100 meters in 10.8 seconds.
Patrick wore wrap-around shades, a gray shirt and Army pants. And he wore thick black socks because the shoes were size 11 and he's "a petite 10 1/2." Just before the start, he admitted he was battling not nerves but a "fear of falling."
Meanwhile, Young exhorted observers to get off the course. "Please move out of the way," he said. "They will run you over."
And then they were off. "Run, girls, run!" Young bellowed. As the field moved up Charles, a pack of front-runners emerged, while others quickly faded. No one tumbled, it appeared.
It came down to the wire, but the clear winner, with a time of around 30 seconds, was Whalen.
"The last time I wore heels was for a costume party, and I was horrible in them," he said in a post-race interview. "I'm surprised I didn't fall. I really thought I was going to fall and plant my face on the sidewalk."
As for Patrick, he finished sixth. But he vowed to return next year: "Look for the gold and black."
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