Published: February 24, 2021
UT Senior Promotes Inclusive Wellness With The OUT Foundation
While browsing through podcasts in 2019, Zane Austin Willard ’21 discovered The OUTCast Podcast, which “celebrates everyday victories for anyone who’s ever felt ‘other’ or like an outcast.” Willard listened to season one of the podcast, which covered topics from substance abuse to dating apps.
“I was like, ‘Oh this could be interesting, a gay CrossFit podcast,’” said Willard, who started following them on Instagram as well. “But it was just like pop culture and queer things and it was just fun; they were engaging hosts and all that.”
When OUTCast posted on Instagram that they were looking for an editor and producer for the upcoming season two of the podcast, Willard jumped at the opportunity and reached out. Before he knew it, he was welcomed to the team to edit and produce season two for 2020.
The OUTCast Podcast is run by The OUT Foundation. The organization’s goal is to remove barriers LGBTQ+ individuals face to access and participate in fitness, health and wellness. They’re dedicated to empowering and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community to help them thrive. Willard’s work with the podcast led to his current role as an audio and visual editor and producer for the foundation. He produces and consults on multimedia projects for marketing and fundraising events as needed.
“The foundation is near and dear to my heart,” said Willard, of Kernersville, NC. “As someone who is an avid member of the Tampa Bay fitness community, I only want more queer people to find their place in the health and wellness community.”
Prior to COVID-19, Willard helped work on season two of The OUTCast and produced 10 episodes, seven of which are live on Spotify and Apple Music. Willard helped coordinate guests for the podcast to ensure that recording went smoothly. Then he’d edit the audio files and create the final version of the episode.
“It was exciting [and] it’s a cool opportunity to meet more people across the community,” said Willard.
Although the podcast had to come to an end due to the pandemic, he says that more discussions are to come in 2021.
Promoting Inclusive Wellness
Outside the podcast, Willard is also involved with other initiatives of The OUT Foundation, including the OUTAthlete program, which provides a year-long gym membership and personal nutrition coach to 10 to 12 young adults each year. This program is specifically for queer young adults who are in financial need and is the only of its kind that focuses this need directly to the queer community.
The OUTHealth program’s mission is to work with medical centers and professionals to create more inclusive medical education on LGBTQ+ health topics, specifically, transgender and gender non-binary care.
OUTAthletics is the foundation’s initiative to bring together members of the LGBTQ+ community to “sweat for a cause” in inclusive fitness spaces. Throughout the year, gyms across the country host fitness events for members of their community to come out for a workout while also raising money for the foundation.
In September last year, Willard helped organize and run a fundraiser for The OUT Foundation through a community pride workout event at CrossFit Big Guava, a CrossFit gym located in Seminole Heights where Willard is a coach.
“Sometimes places of fitness can seem highly gendered and very non-queer friendly, so it can be more intimidating for queer people who may not feel comfortable in these highly gendered spaces,” said Willard. “At CrossFit Big Guava … we make every effort for our LGBTQ+ members to feel at home.”
With a majority of the foundation’s fundraising occurring at in-person events, the foundation hosted a virtual event, OUT-A-THON LIVE! last June to continue to raise money amid the pandemic. Willard helped coordinate and produce the event, which featured various music performers, a live podcast recording and other fun virtual segments which were livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. That night the foundation raised around $25,000.
Although Willard has worked previously on some audiovisual and photography projects, he says that his communication, film, media and art classes at UT helped him prepare for his role with the foundation.
“I’ve gained all those skills from the courses I took at UT in the [Film, Animation and New Media] department and communication department,” said Willard, who has four majors: economics, communication, film and media arts, and visual arts.
Despite having a heavy academic load, Willard is heavily involved on campus. In the past, he’s worked as the director of public relations with the PEACE volunteer center and has led three alternative break trips.
He also works as a peer mentor in the First-Year Experience program. He mentors a section of BAC 102 with Molly Butters, career coach, as well as a section of BAC 103 with Alisha Menzies, assistant professor of communication, whom Willard considers his own mentor. Last March Willard and Menzies co-hosted a lecture on cancel culture. The two plan on hosting another virtual lecture at 6 p.m. on March 17 discussing TikTok.
“In the Department of Communication, that’s really where I found my niche,” said Willard. “I had the opportunity to do things and had some amazing mentors across the University, but Dr. Menzies, she’s my best buddy.”
With graduation right around the corner, Willard is currently applying to graduate programs to pursue research in communication. He has hopes of eventually completing a doctorate degree and pursuing a career as a professor. Early on in his college career, Willard went back and forth between several career paths: everything from a high school math teacher to working in Hollywood. After five years and four majors, Willard says his relationships with professors and involvement across many departments is really what guided him.
“As I got closer to my professors I was like, ‘I want to be an academic,’” Willard said. “That’s what I want to do with my life.”
Story by Mallory Culhane '21, journalism major