FORT COLLINS, Colorado — The morning of his final college cross country race, Andrew Goodman arranged his spikes and running bib to take a picture. He wrote earlier in the week a two-word phrase on the outside arch of his black and yellow shoes using a rainbow of color markers. His competitors would see the phrase as they chased him, but the phrase was intended for him.
Goodman, a Colorado State distance runner, posted the photo on social media before competing at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships in November (you can see the photo below). Until that morning, Goodman always separated being gay and an athlete.
" 'You didn’t run well because you’re a gay boy and you like boys, so you’re not as tough.' That sort of mentality is one of things that I hesitated about for the longest (time) and kept me from it," Goodman says. "You don’t want to be viewed in a different light."
Using the phrase Nike adopted for its LGBT inspired clothing line, the 22-year-old embraced being different.
But for 10 years, Goodman struggled to accept being gay. One of the elite runners in the state of Colorado, he poured himself into the sport since sixth grade. His effort produced success and confidence as a runner, but that confidence didn’t permeate his life.
His stiffest competition was his own mind. He felt doubt about his personal life and questioned his sexuality.
The first step towards change came nine months earlier at the 2014 Mountain West Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships. His meet started strong by running the opening leg of Colorado State’s distance medley relay, which captured the conference title. But the next day, Goodman struggled individually in the mile and the 3,000 meters.
"I was missing this fundamental thing that was supposed to be making me happy that everyone else kind of had," Goodman says. "At conference, that’s when I realized just looking at people and sitting there — I’m missing something."
Running muffled Goodman’s insecurity about being gay. His running impressed people. His running kept him busy. His running let him avoid accepting reality.
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"Rather than letting these words hurt me, I used them to motivate me to perform better," Tristan Bunch, 18, writes.
When the 2014 indoor track season ended, he faced more time to ponder his doubt and internal questions, because running went away. Left ankle pain forced a few months of reduced training in addition to not racing. His doctor diagnosed the injury as calcific tendinitis. Goodman lost the outlet for his competitiveness.
"When he was around the team, he would just be bummed out because he couldn’t go to the meet and race," says Ali Will, a former CSU women’s distance runner. "He craved racing and competing again."
Goodman’s closest friends in Fort Collins are his teammates, so when they left for weekend meets, he found himself alone. Goodman hates being alone to the extent that if he gets home and his roommates are not there, he’ll go somewhere there are people.
With all this alone time, could experiencing the thing he thought would ruin him as an athlete maybe set him free? For so long, he feared being an outcast.
Goodman hates his voice — he speaks fast enough to make an auctioneer jealous and with a higher pitch than most adult men. Goodman reached his current 5-foot-11 height in middle school, but when his voice didn’t drop as he grew, his friends and family started receiving questions about his sexuality.
"His body and everything else had matured at the point to puberty, but the whole voice thing … that’s what they latched onto," says Ben Goodman, Andrew’s younger brother.
In high school and college, people tactfully asked their questions away from earshot. However, middle school kids lack diplomacy. Goodman barely knew what gay meant when someone called him it for the first time.
"Part of the reason that it took me so long to come to terms with things … was that, basically, all of middle school I was bullied," Goodman says.
In eighth grade, for example, Goodman’s tight defense at basketball practice caused the team’s star to get frustrated. He shoved Goodman, and the coach made the star run. In the locker room after practice, the star walked past Goodman and said under his breath, "You fucking faggot."
Goodman says at least once a week he’d hear directly or secondhand of someone calling him gay.
"Those experiences stuck with me for a really long time and kind of built a connotation in my mind, because I was so young, that (being gay) was possibly a negative thing, and that people weren’t going to be accepting of it," Goodman says.
Though Goodman winces hearing his voice, his genes aided his athletic career. His dad, Rick, ran at Eastern Michigan, where he won a distance medley relay conference title, earned all-conference in cross country, and ran on three teams that qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The sport called to Andrew as well.
"Playing an instrument, there’s not that prestige," says Andrew, who stopped playing saxophone after middle school to focus on running. "Sports are universal, especially track. Everyone knows it, realizes what it is. In terms of the world, it’s a popular sport. Also, (it’s) where my talents lie. I was extremely good at it, and it came to me very naturally, which helped."
Many of the boys calling Andrew gay in the hallways were his North Middle School track and field teammates, and Andrew used the dirt track behind the school to settle the score. Goodman won three city titles in sixth grade, two more in seventh grade, and four in eighth grade. He still holds two city records.
The running success continued in high school. Competing in Colorado’s largest classification, Goodman earned 10 all-state honors between cross country and track and field. Palmer High School named him its male athlete of the year in 2010-11.
"Out of everything else in his personal life, running always took precedent," says Teddi Tostanoski, Goodman’s best friend since the seventh grade. "(In high school) Andrew was the track star and cross country star. … I think if you weren’t in his close group of friends, that’s all you’d know him for is his running. From my perspective, I think that’s kind of what he wanted to be known for in high school."
The night of May 24, 2011, Goodman rises from his seat in front of his entire senior class wearing a dark brown mortarboard and gown, a white corsage pinned on his left lapel. He walks to the podium.
Goodman, one of the school’s top students athletically and academically, gives a speech at graduation highlighting funny moments and inside jokes from the past four years. It receives immediate applause, and congratulations inundate him after the ceremony.
Andrew Goodman, right, with his younger brother Ben
There’s also an unexpected response. A guy who heard his speech sent him a Facebook message and said he found Goodman attractive.
"At that point, I remember being like, ‘Maybe I could be into this and maybe I could try this with this guy and see where it goes,’ but I didn’t want to accept it," Goodman says.
Instead, Goodman responded that he wasn’t gay. Gay didn’t fit the life Goodman envisioned.
"I’m a perfectionist," Goodman says. "(Being gay) was going to make me different and possibly not perfect, and that freaked me out on a level. And then I also think it was like the choked-up fear of people (and) because of the stuff that happened in middle school — people are going to hate me, people aren’t going to like me, people are going to judge me, people are going to bully me. I didn’t want any of that."
To fit society's ideals, Goodman needed a female companion. He never had a girlfriend after seventh grade, but he took girls to dances and asked them on dates. He always knew he was attracted to guys, but he hadn't distinguished the difference between his sexual attraction to men and the platonic enjoyment women gave him. His dates with women never developed into relationships, so those first years at CSU, he worked toward perfection in areas he felt he could control: academics and running."
Through his first 3 1/2 years at Colorado State, he’s nearly perfect scholastically. An A- in a composition class remains the only barrier between Goodman and a 4.0 grade point average. He’s enjoyed running success, too.
He placed at the conference track championships six times his first two years. His sophomore year, Goodman mastered clearing the 36-inch high steeplechase barrier despite only having a 30-inch inseam. He ran the fifth-fastest 3,000-meter steeplechase time in school history (8 minutes, 54.64 seconds), finished second in the Mountain West, and qualified for the 2013 NCAA postseason. During his junior year, Goodman started to notice his thoughts becoming a burden on his running. Particularly during long workouts and races when his mind could drift, he wondered if he should stop suppressing his feelings toward men.
"I had never kissed a boy. I had never danced with a boy. I had never done anything with a boy," Goodman says. "I told myself that I wasn’t going to know for sure until I physically had done something."
Tostanoski told him about the gay app Grindr. Through Grindr, Goodman met a few guys clandestinely in April 2014. He enjoyed the affection he received, and he couldn’t wait to tell Tostanoski, who accepted the news by hugging Goodman. Telling another athlete felt more daunting.
A few weeks later at a house party to celebrate the end of the track and field season, Goodman asked Kiah Hicks to follow him outside. They walked out the front door of the one-story white house and took a trip around the block. For the first time in their friendship, Hicks saw tears stream from Goodman’s light brown eyes.
"He told me that he was gay and how scared he was but how sure he was and unsure at the same time," says Hicks, a thrower on the women’s team.
It’d be another five months before Goodman told any of the CSU men’s distance runners. However, the experience lost its threatening nature about a month later.
For a week in June, Goodman volunteered at a camp for kids with muscular dystrophy and worked one-on-one with an 11-year-old named Sam, who possessed limited arm and leg function. Sam’s muscular dystrophy had advanced farther than most of the kids at the camp and confined him to a wheelchair. He received questions frequently and never hesitated answering them.
"Judgment is a huge thing with me. Judgment freaks me out, and I don’t want people to judge me or treat me differently," Goodman says. "In comparison to what this kid is going through on a day-to-day basis, (being gay) was miniscule."
It took a pre-teen kid to allow Goodman to move past the emotional scars he developed in his own pre-teen years. "He embraces it 120 percent, and that made me want to embrace who I was 120 percent," Goodman says.
About the same time, Goodman met Josh Dixon, an openly gay U.S. national team gymnast who trains in Colorado Springs. With the courage he took from Sam and the example he took from Dixon, Goodman felt nothing holding him back. He decided that if anyone ever asked him again about being gay, he would no longer lie.
It still wasn’t easy to initiate the conversation. Once back in Fort Collins, he told Ali Will and some close friends immediately. It took some time to tell his male cross country teammates.
Goodman, the only men’s runner on the cover of the 2014 CSU cross country media guide, went on some dates. Jeff Abbey, a CSU runner, saw Goodman with one of his dates at a party. Abbey and Goodman roomed together for each cross country team trip in 2014, and Abbey started using gender-neutral pronouns to talk about people Goodman thought were attractive.
The third meet of the season at Notre Dame, Abbey and Goodman were alone walking in their hotel parking lot. Goodman told a story about someone he’d gone on a date with. Then Goodman stopped, "Truth bomb: It’s a dude." Abbey hugged Goodman.
The rest of the men’s cross country team learned about Goodman’s sexuality shortly afterward. His fear of being unaccepted proved baseless. None of his relationships with teammates changed.
Their acceptance gave Goodman courage to make the subtle public announcement the morning of Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He placed his size 9 1/2 Nike spikes together on his hotel bed. He took the photo and posted it on Instagram and Facebook.
Colorado State’s GLBTQQA Resource Center has no record of any previous CSU athlete announcing publicly that he or she is gay.
"Defying the stereotype of, ‘You’re gay so you’re not as good athletically,’ is huge," Goodman says about his inspiration to live openly.
After a week back in Fort Collins for the 2015 spring semester, Goodman deleted the Grindr app. Goodman accepts himself as a gay man, now. He’s turned his attention back to academics and running. But he’s open to going on dates, too.
Goodman, who has college track eligibility remaining through 2016, is focusing on five steeplechase goals for the next two years: break the school record, qualify for NCAA championships, become an NCAA All-American, qualify for the 2015 U.S. Track and Field Championships and the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
"Since I have figured (my sexuality) out and I know for myself, that’s good enough," Goodman says. "I don’t need to be … pursuing anyone or anything and putting my time and effort there. In reality, I only have one shot at this running thing, and that is where I’m going to focus my time and my effort right now."
He ran one indoor meet this winter, the mile Feb. 13 at the University of New Mexico. It was his first track race since embracing his sexuality. "For whatever reason, I wasn’t super nervous," Goodman says. "Normally, I’m a lot more nervous."
Southern California’s Bryan Jordan took an early lead. Goodman followed him until 400 meters remained. Goodman then started his kick and came around Jordan’s right shoulder.
"I made a really good move and kind of blew the kids out of the water," Goodman says.
Being true to himself is aiding Goodman as a runner. And as a person, too.
"I remember being on my cool down and being so happy about the fact that it finally clicked again," Goodman says. "The fact that I was gay or anything like that wasn’t in my mind the whole race, which was a relief, too. I finally had honed in — not just physically but also mentally."
Andrew Goodman competes in cross country and track and field for Colorado State. He can be reached via Twitter @_Goody92 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org