The excruciating pain overwhelmed my senses as the nausea surfaced. The searing hand of pain gripped my ankle as the crack of my bone cried out to my body: “Stop!”

The race trudged on. My efforts became insignificant as hordes of runners flooded past me. I clawed to the finish line where I could seek refuge from the pain. I prayed it would cease. I stumbled to the finish line, my legs gave out, and I crumpled to the dirt as more runners poured past me. As I lay in the mud with legs floating by me, I thought, “Please let the pain stop.” Helped up by my teammates, I hobbled back to our tent. Finally, I thought the misery had concluded.

I had just finished the sectional cross-country meet of my junior year, where your team either qualifies for the state meet or your season ends. As reports trickled back to our tent, it sounded as if the pain would continue; this would be the first year of my high school career that our team would not be competing at the state meet. Our team had just witnessed utter defeat. The last six months of arduous work was for nothing. We huddled together feeling nothing but sorrow, we all said to each other what we thought would cheer each other up, masking our true feelings. As the light sprinkle of rain fell on our quivering bodies, we gathered in close to each other as tears began to swell.

I got the diagnosis a week later – a fractured fibula, in a boot for 12-14 weeks. The only saving grace was that I could swim to stay in shape.
Time dragged on, as I had grown accustomed to the systematic torture that some call swimming. I stood at the tile cliff peering out into the vacant pool, not a single disturbance in the tension of the water’s surface. Perched, I stood wearing nothing but my Nike nylon swim briefs and a pair of swim goggles that had seen clearer days. As I lunged myself off the tile wall into the paralyzing frigid pool, I began my workout. I swam the same 25-meter stretch of pool over and over again, without the common distraction of music or text messages, and I began to ponder. "Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going?" I delved deeper into myself with every monotonous stroke. I focused on my running, where I wanted to take it, or where it wanted to take me. I thought about what I wanted to do with my blessing of life. I thought about love, who really loves me and who I really love.
As the winter days soldiered on, I began to hone in on certain topics to digest during my night swims, but this particular day I had ignored for far too long. Inside I was becoming comfortable with being gay, but the simple thought of telling anyone or someone finding out sent my steel emotional security doors shooting up to protect me from the ill will of others. I was in a battle with myself. I had always known that I was a confident and accepting guy, so why couldn’t I accept myself?
My main fear was that I would be seen only as gay. That freaked the living daylights out of me; I am so much more than gay. I am a Boy Scout that has reached the rank of Eagle; I am an artist, a leader of four clubs at my high school, a captain of my team. I am so much more. I would tell myself, "If it is not that big of a deal, then why don’t you tell anyone?" I was afraid. Afraid of what others might think or would say. I was afraid of what would change.

Konrad Eiring wearing his shoes with #BeTrue written on them (Photo by Thomas Root)
This fear compelled me to fume with rage. I always saw myself as a brave kid, but I was pretending to be someone that I wasn’t because I was afraid. I realized that this fear had engulfed my spirit for far too long. It poisoned my confidence in far too many races and distanced me from far too many friendships. I had to make it stop. I began to free myself from the shackles of fear and lies when I told two of my closest friends.
We were staying at friend’s lake house for a team-building workshop with my youth group. The conversation, that I prompted, was about two things that no one knows about you. As we walked and talked in the winter wonderland, I dragged the conversation on, trying to come up with anything to talk about except myself. When we reached about a mile away from the house, we sat near the shore and looked out onto the lake.
As the time for my turn came, I started to shake and sweat as I tried with all my might to just say, "I’M GAY DAMMIT AND I’M PROUD!" I choked. After a painfully long pause, I managed to tell a fabricated story to fill in the void on the conversation. I sat in shock that I chickened out. The suggestion was made that we head back and I panicked. This was the night, this was the perfect night and it would be lost because I was too scared. As we marched back, I dragged my feet in the snow as I looked down at my mittens. I knew it was time to free myself from the cinderblock walls of my prison that some call a closet. I said, with dramatic hand movements helping me convey my thoughts and raw emotions, "I don’t really … like … girls."
Our walking slowed, and my heart stopped. The pause seemed to last ages until the phrase "OK, cool" shattered the windowpane of social separation and fear. With that one simple response, I felt that everything would be all right. I had just revealed my true self to my two best friends.
Now that I had a support group of my two closest friends I was ready to tell more people. I began informing people about the piece of me that had been harbored deep in my soul for far too long. I began to smile and a wonderful sensation that had been forced for quite some time.

I returned to land after what seemed like ages in the pool, I ran with a new intensity and vigor. I had shed the feelings of fear and doubt and I ruled the track with confidence.

After winning my first race back, I anchored our 4×800 relay team. There were only two weeks before the sectional track meet, and I knew there was no time to waste. When our 4×800 team qualified for the state track meet, I knew this was it. My fourth race back from a crippling injury, and I would be carrying the baton across the line for my three other teammates. In the preliminary qualifying race, we ran just fast enough to make it into the finals race that very next day. The morning of the race, I woke up cool, calm and confident. I knew what I had to do and how I would do it. There was some pressure in lieu of the fact that our team was the defending state champions of the 4×800. I pushed all of my fears and self-doubt aside because I knew that the only way to succeed; the only way to be happy is to be honest with yourself. Let others think what they want without allowing it affect how you live your life.

We finished fourth that day and as I stood on the podium, surrounded by my brothers, I shed a tear. This time, it was of joy. For the first time, I had been honest with others and myself. My victory and triumph over tribulation was genuine because not only had I recovered from an almost season ending injury, I had finally found the courage to let the world know who I really am.

After returning from state I knew it was time for me to let everyone know. I was done filtering what I had to say, I wanted to be the true Konrad, not that I wasn’t being true but I felt that there was a lot more of me that I wanted to show.

I made a Facebook post because I wanted everyone to know at the same time. I posted it the first night of summer to have a fresh start. For those of you who are nervous about the responses you may get, I will share with you how some people reacted to my coming out. I will always remember these reactions from my big brother, a teammate, and my coach.

Coming out to my older brother
Me: Hey Kev I don’t like girls
Kevin: Ahhh no shit! I’m sorry…
Me: What?
Kevin: I’m sorry I was always pushing you to ask out girls.
Me: Kev its fine.
Kevin: O my gosh I’m sorry if I ever said anything, I love you no matter what.
Me: I know, I love you too Kevin (hug)

Coming out to my teammate
This was during a hill workout and a close teammate and I pulled away from the pack. During a surge I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Me- I don’t like girls
Ryan- (light giggling)
Me- No but really
Ryan- Wow well you are going to disappoint a lot of girls.
Me- Yeah and I’m probably make a few guys really happy.
(Then I kicked to finish the rep)
After we finish the rep.
Ryan- I’m really proud of you and you know I will always accept you.(hug)
Another teammate asked if the workout was hard.
Me- Yeah it was really hard. Then I smiled

Coming out to my head coach
This was my first track workout after being injured. I was running 400s and in between sets I said.
Me: I’ve had a lot of time to think without any bullshit
My coach: and…
Me: and I have come to terms with the fact that I’m gay
Coach: are you really?
Me: yep I am
Coach: Is this something you just realized or you have always known.
Me: I have always known but wasn’t willing to accept it. When I was younger I would always see guys and tell myself that I wanted to be like them not that I thought they were attractive. I would think I can’t like guys. I’m suposto to like girls
Coach: yes I see…you continue to be an inspiration. To have the bravery to be honest with yourself and others considering they may not accept it.
Me: Thanks coach.
Coach: Ok let’s hit this next 400

After coming out I have had the opportunity to become so much closer with my friends, teammates and coaches. I am not holding my identity back, everything is out on the table, I finally feel comfortable with myself. My team with whom I spend countless hours with have even said that I seem happier and more at ease.

I have grown as a runner and as a captain. I was my cross-country team’s captain with one of my closest friend. I was worried that the younger runners would feel uncomfortable with gay captain. After an incredible XC season I know it is safe to say that I feel even more respected because I am so confident with who I am.

Last but not least, I reached Eagle as a Boy Scout and I have spent seven wonderful months with a boyfriend. I never would have thought that I would be where I am today.

There are still some hurdles that I plan to leap over. I plan to run in college next year at the University of Illinois, so there will be some nerves with the new setting and new team. I know all will work out if I stay true to myself and hold my head high with my same quiet confidence that has pulled me through high school.

I am currently running some of my last track races for Barrington High School and every time I lace up my spikes, and I see my Sharpied “BeTrue” written on them (thanks for the idea Andrew Goodman) I get a huge grin because the fear is no more and I feel as though I can fly.

Coming out has transformed my confidence and happiness and It hurts to know that there are fellow athletes and youth who are still in such pain. When coming out you will find that there are so many people that will support you. It is hard, really hard but you will see it almost immediately begin to change your life. So be true to yourself and it will make all the difference.

Konrad Eiring, 18, a senior at Barrington High School in Barrington, Illinois. He is on the varsity track and cross country teams all four years. He will attend the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, where he will run on the track team. He plans on majoring in art and design. He can be reached via email ([email protected]), on Facebook or Instagram (@Thekoneshow).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski