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Athletes preparing for the Copenhagen Outgames

The 2009 World Outgames kick off with the Opening Ceremony in Copenhagen on Saturday, July 25. As the clock ticks down on training for the anticipated 8,000 sporting participants, writer Ross Forman will be profiling Outgames athletes over the next six months in a new continuing series: The Outgames Athletes. To kick off the series, we meet two highly-decorated gay swimmers: Jack Mackenroth and Michelle Ward, both of whom have won numerous medals in past, high-profile gay events.

Louisville's Michelle Ward diving into Copenhagen head-first

The Outgames are a perfect mix for two of Michelle Ward’s favorite activities: swimming and traveling, and she loves to do both.

Ward, a lesbian from Louisville, Ky., will be traveling to this summer’s Outgames for the swimming events. She has participated in IGLA events since 2004.

Ward is a claims adjuster for Anthem/WellPoint Inc. She said her summer goals are simple: “To have fun swimming and sight-seeing in Copenhagen.”

This is Ward’s first appearance in the Outgames, but she was a medal-winner (one gold, three silver and two bronze) at the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. And she’s been a multi-medal-winner in every annual IGLA event since 2004. In fact, her IGLA tally is 11 golds, 6 silvers and 3 bronze in the four IGLA championships she’s participated in.

HIGH SCHOOL: Elizabethtown High School, Class of 1986

COLLEGES ATTENDED: Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky.

SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Brigitte Cooper

FAVORITE ATHLETE: Dara Torres

HOBBIES: Gardening, jogging, reading.

LITTLE KNOWN FACT ABOUT WARD: “I like to shave my head.”

What separates you from other Outgames participants: “This will be my first Outgames, my first time in Denmark, and I am traveling by myself. It also will be my first IGLA competition that I have not stayed in hosted housing.”

Will we ever see an openly gay athlete in one of the four major sports, and if so, when: “If you consider swimming one of our four major sports, yes, and within the next few years.”

Full marriage rights for gays or gays allowed in the military; which will happen first: “I believe gays and lesbians will be welcomed into military service before they will be granted full marriage rights.”

Jack Mackenroth looking forward to losing his Outgames virginity

Jack Mackenroth is set to make his Outgames debut this summer, and he has full intention of duplicating the success he’s had at the last five Gay Games, including the Chicago edition in 2006: He has swum to golden memories in all Games he’s participated in.

“I really want to win a gold medal,” said Mackenroth, who will celebrate his 40th birthday on April 29.

He will participate in Copenhagen in multiple breaststroke events, his best stroke, including the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, as well as the 50- and 100-meter freestyle.

The swimming competition in Copenhagen will be the biggest single event in the sports program at the 2009 World Outgames, according to organizers. The 2009 International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) Championships will be hosted together with the swimming competition at the Outgames. The tournament is arranged in cooperation with IGLA.

“I’m the kind of person who takes my medals and just throws them in a box, but I really want to win one in Copenhagen,” Mackenroth, who will be competing in the Masters Division for competitors aged 40 to 45. “I’m really committed to the Gay Games because, when I was 20, that was my first experience. I’m very loyal to the Gay Games, but I’m very excited for the Outgames.”

Mackenroth made a name for himself worldwide on the TV show Project Runway. The hunky designer from New York City, who is HIV-positive, had to leave the show early due to a staph infection. But his memories of the TV spotlight still shine.

“Life is good and I’m really glad I did [Project Runway],” said Mackenroth, who was a design director at a menswear company before the show. “I’m doing OK, as long as I can pay my mortgage. I don’t care about being a millionaire; that will come later.

“The show worked out OK. I don’t look back with regrets; there’s no point to that. I do wish I could have stayed on longer because I think I could have done well. But I’m totally glad I did it. I made some lifelong friends."

Mackenroth is now touring the nation on behalf of drug maker Merk, to help promote HIV education.

As of mid-January, he is single again.

“I like to date someone around my age,” Mackenroth said. “I just like someone who is interesting, someone who has a talent that they are really passionate about. It doesn’t have to be a visual art talent; it could even be [information technology], just something that really gets them going. And if he has a good body too, that doesn’t hurt.”