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Joe Altenau had been a trailblazer with the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center for years. When he came out publicly in 2017, he became one of the first gay men in and around the NHL — a league that’s never had a current or former out gay player — to come out publicly.
He used that position to push the Devils, along with other entities across sports, to further embrace the LGBTQ community. With Altenau’s guidance, the Devils emerged as one of the most pro-LGBTQ clubs in the league, pointing to the impact of having an out LGBTQ person with a seat at the table.
He’s also a board member of Homefield Alliance, a network of LGBTQ executives and administrators in sports.
That table has changed for Altenau in recent months as he’s moved into a new role in a new sport.
For his influence with the Devils and Prudential Center, and his continuing influential role in his new job, Altenau has been named to Outsports’ 2023 Power 100.
“I’m so proud of the work we did for so many marginalized communities,” Altenau said of his role that culminated as Vice President, Event Operations and Guest Experience, Prudential Center. “Working with the LGBTQ community, with the addition of our Pride Night and seeing that grow over the years from a small room or 20 people awkwardly standing around, to hundreds of people with some of the biggest people in sports in the New Jersey area.”
Yet Altenau had a dream job burning at the back of his mind. A runner almost all of his life — he ran cross-country for George Washington University — and having run the New York Marathon twice, he had long thought about making a move to the New York Road Runners, the organization that hosts the Marathon, along with a bunch of other races throughout the year.
Plus, a 15-minute walk to the office versus 45 minutes on public transportation to New Jersey wouldn’t hurt, either.
“It was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever made in my life. I felt so fortunate to spend 14-and-a-half years with the Devils and Prudential Center working to create memories for guests that will last a lifetime.”
Now in his new role at the New York Road Runners, Altenau is taking many of the skills he learned at his previous job and applying them to a sport that holds his passion.
“In my very first interviews with New York Road Runners, it became very clear that the they are an incredible organization and a place where I can fit in and add to the great work they’re doing here. It’s been three months, and every hope and dream I’ve had taking the job has been realized.”
Now as Head of Event Production for NYRR, he leads a team that’s responsible for every detail of a number races the organization hosts all year long. That includes the New York City Marathon, the largest marathon in the world. The scope of his team’s responsibilities includes everything from street closures to tents to water, working with security and so much more.
He also gets to work on the Front Runners LGBT Pride Run, which took place last weekend during New York City Pride.
Front Runners is an LGBTQ running group in New York, named after the groundbreaking 1974 novel by Patricia Nell Warren about a gay runner and his coach. NYRR is a partner with Front Runners on the run.
Projects like that help him continue his legacy of advancing the LGBTQ community in sports.
“One of the big concerns I had leaving the Devils and Prudential Center was how I could use this platform to continue advocating for the LGBTQ community,” Altenau said. “Part of that concern was how much NYRR had already done, building a welcoming work environment and creating a groundbreaking nonbinary category for runners in the New York City Marathon.
“All of the little things the entire team is doing for the runners in the nonbinary category, whether it’s the prize money, the tape break, making sure we get that right as well as all the other things along the way, I am so fortunate to work on this.”
As for running in one of his own events, Altenau is currently focused on ensuring smooth events for other runners.
He’s not done yet. He is halfway to a Six Star Medal from the Abbott World Marathon Majors, given to anyone who completes six of the largest marathons in the world. He’s completed the three qualifying marathons in the United States — New York, Boston and Chicago — and he has London, Berlin and Tokyo left to conquer.
“I will hopefully in the next few months hop back in, but I’m such a running nerd from the operations side that I prefer working these races.”
It’s been a steep learning curve for Altenau. Having focused on guest experiences for the Prudential Center for many years, he now appreciates previously having a controlled environment inside an arena to host events.
Since taking the NYRR job, seven of the eight races he’s overseen have had weather issues, including absolute downpours.
“You really have to rely on your team,” he said.