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Olympic trampoline hopeful Sam Sendel comes out to inspire other LGBT athletes

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Sam Sendel will continue her journey to the 2016 Summer Olympics as an out lesbian, working alongside the Canadian Olympic Committee, You Can Play & Egale Canada to improve the atmosphere in sports for LGBT athletes.

Sam Sendel is jumping out of the closet and - hopefully - onto the Canadian Olympic team.
Sam Sendel is jumping out of the closet and - hopefully - onto the Canadian Olympic team.
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Sam Sendel is laying everything on the line. The 23-year-old trampolinist is aiming for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

As she ascends to the highest levels of her sport, she doesn't want to hold back her identity as a lesbian anymore.

Sendel, who has competed in trampoline for 14 years, is coming out publicly in conjunction with Tuesday's announcement by the Canadian Olympic Committee about their LGBT-inclusive efforts. The initiative's aim is to rid sport of homophobia and anti-gay biases by embracing LGBT athletes and working alongside groups like Egale Canada and the You Can Play project. When she heard about the initiative, Sendel jumped at the opportunity to share her true self with the world.

"As a gay athlete, I'm touched deeply,'' Sendel said of the COC's initiative. "I'm hoping it will help prevent the younger generations from feeling like they need to hide who they are. That was a big issue for me. I think it will really makes a difference.''

While she's just now sharing her story with the world, her family, friends, coaches and teammates have known for a while.

"When I finally did come out," Sendel said of opening up to those close to her, "everyone was extremely accepting and I felt so much better about myself."

Although Sendel felt like a weight was lifted off of her shoulders when she came out to unreserved support, the process of figuring out who she was proved to be daunting.

"I was always sitting there thinking I was different and thinking to myself: ‘Is something wrong with me?' I felt different and a little alienated,'' Sendel said. "It was a confusing time and I really was worried about what others would think.''

Growing up, Sendel had no LGBT role models in sport, which heightened her nerves leading up to the coming out process. As she told people in her inner circle, the anxiety quickly diminished and new feelings of excitement and joy took their place.

"I felt like I didn't have to hide who I was,'' Sendel said describing the feeling after coming out. "I wasn't leading a double life anymore. I could really just focus on competing as me, rather than competing as the person I was pretending to be.''

Sendel said that she has yet to experience any negativity regarding her sexual orientation. She feels privileged.

"I'm very fortunate. I have heard stories from my friends, so I know that it is sometimes rare to get all positive reactions when coming out.''

Sendel has found the sport of trampoline to be an inclusive environment for athletes who identify as LGBT. Experiencing the support that she did within trampoline was both humbling and reassuring: She loves and cherishes the sport.

"The feeling of flying, there is nothing like it. Even if it only lasts for a few seconds."

December finds trampoline in its offseason, but training will soon begin in preparation for trials in April.

"Come the new year, we are going to hop right back into training-pushing the limits on trampoline as well as on the weights in the gym."

Sendel acknowledged that many athletes are still in the closet, afraid to disclose that part of their lives. But she offered up some advice for those athletes who are struggling.

"Don't be afraid to be who you are,'' Sendel said. "It is definitely a relief to get that off your chest and not feel like you have to hide from the world. And it does get better for sure. If there are people who do [have a problem with your sexual orientation], don't let them be a part of your life.''

Heading into the new season, Sendel is excited to finally be competing openly. After years of keeping this part of herself shut in, she thinks her new-found freedom will lift her to new heights. She hopes it inspires others to do the same.

"Being one of the athletes who's out, it's an honor,'' Sendel said. "I'm excited to see what it leads to. If I can be out and proud, and that inspires even one kid to be more proud of themselves and allows them to come out a little easier, then it's all worth it."

You can follow Sam Sendel on Twitter @SamSendel.

Sam Sendel

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