Chris Macies didn't take no for an answer. Wanting to pursue crew in college, he turned to another sport when a debilitating injury ended his rowing career. Now, he's one of the growing number of openly gay men and women finding a home racing triathlons.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I spent almost 14 years in Canada before my family moved to a small town in Westchester County about 30 miles north of New York City when I was in eighth grade. Although I consider myself Canadian, I think attending high school and college in America has had a greater impact on me. Going to high school in such close proximity to New York City opened my eyes and gave me access to things I didn’t have in Canada. It allowed me to figure out who I was much faster.
I rowed in high school and was looking for a school where I could balance intercollegiate competition with strong academics. Columbia hadn’t been at the top of my list, but after talking to the coach, seeing the boathouses, and hanging out on campus, I quickly made up my mind. Though I was injured before I could compete in collegiate crew, I couldn’t be happier that I ended up at Columbia. Columbia’s location in New York is the best thing about it. Not only do you have everything imaginable a subway ride away, but it’s also close enough to mountains to ski, has easy access to open water swimming in the long island sound or Atlantic ocean, and great mountain and road cycling trails – all less than two hours away.
How did you get into triathlons?
It was a slow transition from rowing. I found out I had a fairly serious spinal injury in my senior year of high school and wasn’t going to be able to row anymore. My doctor had recommended swimming as a great exercise because it works the entire body with minimal impact. I had run cross-country and track for the first few years in high school and was already an avid cyclist, so when I started swimming, combining all three things was the natural next step. It took about two years before I was comfortable enough to actually sign up and compete in a triathlon. After completing the first one, I dove right in and joined the Columbia Triathlon Club team.
What sports had you participated in before doing triathlons?
My friends and I used to do some mountain biking in the woods and around the reservoir in town where I grew up. I also ran cross-country and track (indoor and outdoor) for the first two years of high school. I had been rowing in the summers since the sixth grade, so when I got my driver’s license at 16 I was able to commit to a team about 40 miles away and make practices every day. I fell in love with rowing and it formed the foundation for all my training and competitive sports. I’m also an avid skier, and a few years ago I became a ski instructor. I’m currently a volunteer instructor with the Adaptive Sports Foundation at Windham Mountain, teaching people with various disabilities to ski. The program is the most rewarding thing I’ve done and, as a bonus, it has brought my personal skiing to a whole new level.
Tell me about the Columbia triathlon team.
The Columbia Triathlon Club Team is an awesome group of people who really like racing triathlons. We have team practice once a week where we usually go for our swim, workout and run. Though we only meet once as week as a group, everyone works out on their own. We run into each other at the gym or at the pool all the time. The club has a great coach who puts out training programs that we (try to) follow. The club-level aspect of the team is perfect because it’s not a strict commitment – the training can be upwards of 12 hours a week, which is a significant time spent at the gym instead of the library! So we each keep track of our own training schedule and plan around the team workout. It’s convenient because if one of us wants to go for a long ride in the winter, we shoot out an email and see if anyone else wants to join so no one has to ride alone. Columbia was the Ivy League Triathlon champions last year, and we’re hoping to hold onto that title again this year! I was asked to be the treasurer of the club last semester, and we’re now in the midst of planning our trip to collegiate nationals in April.
Do your teammates know you're gay?
Yes, most of them know. When I was younger I was very conscious about my sexuality, especially on sports teams. By my senior year of high school, everyone on my crew team knew. In a lot of ways, I think I got closer to my teammates after they found out I was gay. I was team captain and stroke of the boat and worried that it would affect how we worked together. It didn’t. Performance and commitment levels are not based on whom you choose to date. This is my first year on the triathlon team and I don’t hide my sexuality. I think that as you develop relationships with your teammates, your sexuality naturally presents itself. Though I think it’s also a lot easier to do in college than it was in high school.
When did you realize you're gay?
I knew for certain in my second year of high school; however, I think I started to figure it out as early as middle school. I came out to one of my best friends (and ex-girlfriend) at the end of my sophomore year and then to my friends and immediate family about four months later. It was hard at first, but when they realized nothing changed despite the fact that I was now gay, it was fine. One of my friends didn’t believe me; it took a week before he realized there was no way I had all our friends "in on the joke." It was a very positive experience. My best friend from high school who came to Columbia as well recently told me that when I came out to him, he questioned if he was gay. He reasoned that since we were practically inseparable "if Chris is gay, I must be too."
I came out long before I raced my first triathlon, but they’re the same thing for me in some respects. Being gay doesn’t define me anymore than does being a triathlete. They’re both just parts of the whole. Though being gay in high school was certainly fuel to excel in sports. Sports were an outlet where I could prove I was no different than anyone else regardless of sexuality.
Has being gay made being a triathlete harder or easier?
I haven’t encountered any problems with being a gay triathlete. No one on the team has a problem with me being gay. The captain even asked me to take on the role of treasurer this year. Whether you like guys or girls, the key thing on any team is your commitment and contribution to the team. My boyfriend is also extremely supportive and likes coming to races, although I think all of the fit guys in spandex may be an added incentive.
Have you done much dating?
I came out when I was 16 because it was too difficult to lie about what I was doing when I was actually sneaking off to see a guy. Dating in high school meant something different than dating in college, probably due to hormone levels. That said, a little over a year ago I met a really great guy whom I’m still dating. He ran competitively in high school and finished a marathon in college, so he’s a really great running partner, even though he is a lot faster than I am. We really enjoy playing sports and training together. We golf, swim, and play the occasional game of tennis. In the winter we ski together and this year spent a week out in Colorado with friends.
Have you dated any other college athletes?
Do you have an interest in pursuing triathlons as a career? What other career paths are you considering?
Although it would be great to get to a professional level in any sport, it has never been a dream I’ve wanted to pursue. I have to pay close attention to my injury to make sure I don’t train too hard, so simply staying fit and healthy is my main focus. That said, I’d like to be fit and healthy enough to finish an Ironman in my lifetime.
I’m double majoring in Architecture and Economics at Columbia. I’ve been interning at an architect’s office for the past two years, and that is something I’ll pursue after graduation. I’ve found economics fascinating and have been focusing on development/growth economics. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to apply that at some point. I’d like to spend a winter skiing somewhere after graduating from Columbia – then I think I’ll be ready to dive into the real world. I plan to go back and get my Masters of Architecture after a few years of work experience. Ultimately, I think I’d like to become a licensed practicing architect.
You can reach Chris Macies via email.
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