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Willamette College runner comes out

From the first time I chatted with Steven Millard, he was what I wish I had been when I was his age: a top-level collegiate runner and very comfortable with his sexuality. When I asked the senior biology major several months ago if he'd be willing to do an interview with me for Outsports, he politely declined but told me he'd think about it for later in the year. Given that his senior-year season was coming up this autumn, I figured it would be sometime in the winter; he wouldn't want a discussion about his sexuality interfering with his season.

Steven Millard at a glance . . .

AGE: 21

BIRTHPLACE: Seattle WA

FAVORITE MOVIE: Spider-Man I

FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM: Mariners

FAVORITE QUOTE: "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."

PLACE YOU'D MOST WANT TO GO ON SPRING BREAK: Dubai

PERSON YOU'D MOST WANT TO MEET: Roger Bannister or Josh Groban

So it was with great surprise that I read a note from him about four weeks ago saying, "OK, I'm ready." He had already spoken to his coach and the athletic department about doing an article on him for Outsports. Mind you, they didn't know until that moment that he was gay; and he was met with smiles and nods and encouragement. In fact, none of his teammates and only one family member knew that he was gay before doing this interview; though, I bet they do now.

It took a couple rounds of emails and a phone call, but I've gotten to know Millard at least on a surface level. And he seems to be the genuine thing. The reason he's doing it? His hope that other young athletes will see this story and feel like they have a friend. I've got to believe the people at Willamette University feel blessed to have him there; and I feel fortunate to be able to bring you his thoughts here.

Outsports: How long have you been running?
Millard: I have been running essentially my whole life, ever since the beginning of elementary school.

Outsports: What first inspired you to run, and what built your interest in it?
Millard: Its hard for me to distill any particular inspiration that motivated me to start running. Some athletes pick it up from another family member or have a family history of running, but that wasn’t the case for me. I’ve just always had the drive to run. In elementary school I remember the sense of euphoria I got when I would just pick up my feet and go. Running felt so freeing. I don’t think I lost any races in elementary school, but since then the competition has been a little stronger. Joking.

Since elementary school my interest in running has been built by a love of the interpersonal and TEAM aspect as well as a desire to always perform better and to push my physical limits. A race is as much about passion and guts as it is about physical fitness. I love the challenge of races and the chance to motivate my teammates to perform at a level that they didn’t know they could.

Outsports: What's the toughest thing for you about distance running?
Millard: The hardest part about distance running for me is conquering the doubts that try to creep in. A good distance runner needs to stay intensely focused and mentally positive. It can be very hard in the middle of an 8k to stay engaged or summon the mental and physical energy to battle a long hill.

Outsports: Ever see yourself turning to triathlons?
Millard: I actually have thought about trying triathlons once I graduate from college. The running wouldn’t be a hard adjustment, and I have always loved swimming. I think I could pick up the biking pretty easily too. It would just be a lot of strength building.

Outsports: How long have you known you're gay?
Millard: I’ve known that I was gay since the winter of my freshmen year in college. That is the time when I began to come to terms with my feelings, or the period that I like to refer to as “coming out to myself.” It was a bit emotionally rocky for me, especially reconciling my Christian faith with my feelings, but I did a good job of not showing my internal struggle.

I’ve been attracted to guys as long as I can possibly remember, but I completely blocked it out and did everything I could not to confront it. After that method started to break down I tried to rationalize my feelings. Later in high school and at the beginning of college the issue was like a storm cloud in the distance; I knew that I was going to have to confront it.

Outsports: How have you reconciled your Christian faith with your sexuality?
Millard: Not simply or easily. When I first started to deal with my feelings I struggled with thinking that my faith and feelings might collide. I did a lot of reading and a lot of personal investigation and have come to the conclusion that the bible simply does not speak to the issue of homosexuality as we understand it today. One source that was tremendously helpful to me was the website gaychristian.net which has several thoughtful responses regarding the issue. Today, I am happy with where I am at regarding my faith.

Outsports: I saw you're a triplet. Are either of your siblings gay?
Millard: Neither of my two siblings are gay. In fact my sister is getting married in a year.

Outsports: What made your decision to attend Willamette?
Millard: I chose to come to Willamette based on a number of factors. First and foremost I wanted to attend a small University that had outstanding academics and a high-caliber cross country and track team. Willamette had the academic rigor I was looking for and I saw that the running programs under coach Matt McGuirk were very strong. I also wanted to be involved in choral music since I have been in choir my whole life. Currently, this is my second year as the tenor section leader in the chamber choir under the direction of Dr. Wallace Long. Based on these and other factors I am quite happy with my experience at Willamette.

Outsports: How good of a runner are you?
Millard: I feel as though I haven’t reached my full potential as a runner yet, and one of my goals for this year is to really explore that potential. I hope to be on the national squad, and help the TEAM to an outstanding national finish.

Outsports: I saw you finished 11th in a race this past weekend; is that good for you, or are you aiming higher?
Millard: I think that my finish this past weekend is a good starting point for the season. It was a solid effort, but I know that I can dig down deeper and find that elusive extra gear. I think that in order to find it I really need to focus on running with great pride and passion and for the TEAM.

Outsports: Most people don't see running as a team sport. What is it about being a part of a team that resounds most with you?
Millard: The TEAM is a huge source of our energy and spirit. Distance running is a sport in which we try to push our bodies further than we think they are capable… Its about pushing physical limits. The power of the TEAM aspect is based on the understanding that we can see the potential in our teammates that they might not be able to, and conversely, that others can see the potential in ourselves that we as individuals may be blind to. Because of this we have a huge responsibility to both lift each other up when our teammates need support and to also receive that support when we feel as if there is no possible way to continue on. We both re-instill the fire in each other and we push through the pain because the last thing we would want to do is let each other down. I think the reason that runners often share such a strong bond is because we hurt together and we get each other through it.

Outsports: Are you out to your family?
Millard: I came out to my sister in the spring and she was supportive. I am currently in the process of telling the rest of my family. I’m sure it will be hard for them, but I will be optimistic in saying that I think they will receive me well too.

Outsports: Are you out to anyone on your team? Do you think someone you know, particularly on your team, might react badly?
Millard: No, I am not out to anyone on the team, although I don’t mind if they know. I think that bad reactions will be very limited. The campus is supportive, the coaches are supportive and the team has a lot of special men and women on it. I think they will like me for who I am as a person, as they do for everyone else. And when it comes down to it, my sexuality has no affect on how I perform or how I interact with my teammates.

Outsports: Do you hope your team and other people you know read this article?
Millard: Yes I hope that they do because I think that they might be able to gain a new understanding. If nothing else, I hope that it would cause people to be aware that there are individuals who you interact with every day who are closeted and gay. I thank everyone for their support so far.

Outsports: Have you had any bad reactions when you came out?
Millard: Surprisingly, I have not had any bad reactions to coming out. I was expecting worse. It could be though that I am only out to a couple handfuls of people.

Outsports: Have you dated much?
Millard: I have had a couple dates, but generally I am kept pretty busy.

Outsports: Are you a confident person?
Millard: Yes and no. I have become more confident as I grow older and become more comfortable with myself. When I was in elementary school I was actually very self-conscious. Throughout junior high, high school and now college I have continued to slowly grow out of it. A lot of my self-confidence that I have now came from accepting myself for who I am regardless of my orientation. A huge part of the self-acceptance and coming out process for many guys, myself included, involves dealing with your own homophobic notions and stereotypes that were adopted from society ever since childhood. Once you can conquer those, it is really freeing.

Outsports: What does life hold for you after college?
Millard: I am still unsure about my post-college plans. My interests have always been very broad. I know that no matter what, athleticism and fitness will be a big part of my life whether that comes in the form of running or something else. Because I am interested in both the biological and social sciences I am considering nursing school, PA school or medical school. I am also fascinated by the biotechnology industry so that is another direction I may choose. It is likely that I will take a year or two off from school to distill exactly what I want to do and then go back. In the mean time I may become a Teach For America Corps member or join the Peace Corps.