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Gay University of Illinois gymnast inspired by Steve Grand's 'All-American Boy'

Fred Hartville has overcome injuries and struggles with his sexuality to be accepted.

Fred Hartville stands next to the vault at Huff Hall on the University of Illinois  campus in Champaign, Ill.
Fred Hartville stands next to the vault at Huff Hall on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, Ill.
Photo by Erik Hall

Fred Hartville was struggling with his sexuality in the fall of 2013. Jason Collins had come out earlier that year and the news was rife with LGBT stories. But it was watching on YouTube Steve Grand's "All-American Boy" that had the biggest impact on Hartville.

The University of Illinois gymnast had become close with Cameron Rogers, an Illini gymnast who was the first openly gay person Hartville had met. He decided to spend Thanksgiving that year with Rogers and his family, much to his grandmother's disapproval. As recounted by Erik Hall in a story for The Georgia Voice:

"You would rather go spend Thanksgiving with a gay boy and his family rather than come home," Barbara Hartville said to her grandson Fred Hartville shortly after he got home for Christmas in 2013.

She didn't know Fred started thinking he was gay and couldn't withhold her displeasure that he spent Thanksgiving 2013 with Cameron Rogers' family.

Fred Hartville, who lived with his grandma during high school, planned to save money and spend Thanksgiving in Champaign, Illinois, instead of flying home to Atlanta. Rogers was driving home to Charlotte, North Carolina, so Rogers' roommate and Hartville received invitations to come along to the Tar Heel State.

"I think subconsciously, I did it as I started coming to terms with my sexuality," Hartville says of developing a close friendship with Rogers. "It's where I felt comfortable, so that's just where I kind of gravitated towards."

Hartville enjoyed Christmas break in Atlanta, but his grandma calling Rogers "a gay boy" early in the trip resonated. Hartville kept thinking, "I'm that gay boy, too."

This began the process of Hartville coming out, which culminated with him telling his teammates at team bonding function last May:

Each person talked briefly. Hartville, a sophomore, wanted to be direct when his time to talk arrived, so he said, "I'm sad that the seniors are leaving, and I'm gay." The circle of men applauded.

"At that moment, I just kind of blacked out just from the excitement," Hartville says. "It was that moment I felt free."

Hartville, 20, is believed to be the first active openly gay Illini athlete and one who was successful enough to win the 2013 NCAA men's gymnastics vaulting title. Hall's story deals with Hartville's serious knee injuries and his close friendship with Rogers. It's a tale of acceptance and perseverance well worth reading.