(This story was published in 2007).
By: Ross Forman
J.P. Calderon never envisioned he'd be a volleyball coach, certainly not for girls and women.
He was, you see, a player, good enough in the late-1990s to play for Long Beach State University and even be the team captain as a senior, leading the 49ers to the NCAA Tournament.
After the '98 season, Calderon had the opportunity to play professionally in Barcelona, Spain, yet hadn't completed his degree. "In my heart, I wanted to travel, to play, to see the world," he said.
But ultimately he rejected the overseas offers and stayed at Long Beach, where he was offered the volunteer assistant coaching position for the women's team. He also landed a local club volleyball coaching gig – where he is now in his ninth season.
Calderon worked at Long Beach under volleyball coaching legend Brian Gimmillaro. He was a volunteer assistant for three years, then a paid, full-time assistant coach for his last two seasons with the team.
"I was so fortunate; I was able to be around the best of the best, and learn from some really great people," he said.
He now coaches for the Mizuno Long Beach Volleyball Club, and two of his teams (Under-18s and Under-15s) are the No. 1-ranked teams in Southern California and will be competing at the end of June in the 2007 USA Junior Olympic Girls' Volleyball Championships at the Minneapolis (Minn.) Convention Center.
"I guess coaching was my calling," said Calderon, who also spent two years (2004-05) playing on the AVP circuit.
Calderon's volleyball success – as a player and coach – pale to his worldwide fame achieved a year ago on Survivor: Cook Islands.
Calderon was one of two gay Survivors on the show (along with Brad Virata), though the sexual orientation of both was never disclosed on-air. Virata was out during the show; producers just never revealed it.
Calderon came out this past February, revealing he is gay on The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency (Oxygen Network).
"I don't live in a stereotypical gay world," said Calderon, 31, who still lives in Long Beach. "I don't have a lot of gay friends, just a handful. Sure, I would sneak up to West Hollywood every now and then to go out, but was always very closeted and very careful, to prevent from being exposed."
And even when he worked at a gay bar, he told everyone he was straight.
Rumors were rampant about Calderon's sexual orientation during his run last summer on Survivor. He was ultimately the fourth Survivor voted off.
"I was getting to a point in life where I was just hating the lies, and thus got very depressed and angry because I was wasting so many years of my life and just couldn't be me," Calderon said. "I was at a point that, I wanted to be out; I just didn't know how to come out. The past three months (since coming out) have been great. All of my fears, everything that I was scared of … it was the complete the opposite," he said. "It's been great. All of my friends, the volleyball world, absolutely everybody has been supportive. No one has shut me down.
"Some of my friends even joked, ‘It's about time; we've known for the longest time.'"
TRUTH BE TOLD …
Birthday: September 5, 1975
Volleyball: Played two seasons at Santa Monica City College before transferring to Long Beach.
On Gay Games VIII in 2010: “Sure, without a doubt I’ll compete, though I don’t know how good I’ll be at that time.”
On the kids he coaches: “The kids who I coach are wonderful. I’ve gotten closer to them (since coming out), and that’s something I was scared about (when I was coming out.)”
Now appearing: Was a special guest in May at the Long Beach Gay Pride Parade. Scheduled for appearances at Gay Pride events this summer in Atlanta, Kansas City and Orlando, among others. “I never envisioned any of this. I never thought I’d be at this point, at this comfortable level (in the gay community).”
Could you have been out while playing in college?: “I don’t think so. At that time, I don’t think people were as accepting; people were a little more ignorant, un-educated. But times have really changed. If I was in college now, I would be able to be out, but not back then. Being out is now becoming not a big deal.”