I've been blessed to live in suburban New Hampshire for the majority of my 17 years. I was the happiest kid, growing up with my brother Nicholas, my parents, and my extended family and friends always a short drive away.

My brother introduced me to cross-country and track when I was 11, and I immediately loved it. There was something about being able to just pick up and go, as the world and all its struggles would melt away on a run. I was everything that my parents wanted in their child: athletic, academic, and a leader.

Behind my parent's white-picket fence American Dream, I was drowning.

Being an athlete, you tend to create inseparable bonds with your teammates that are unlike any other. In August of 2013 I walked through the door of Team Room #8 at Pinkerton Academy as a freshman in high school. My brother, two years my elder, was by my side on the team as a junior and co-captain. So many emotions flooded me: anticipation, fear and relief.

This was my new start, a blank slate. I thought that I could be whoever I wanted to be. At the time I wanted to be anyone besides who I really was.

I was beginning to come to terms with the fact I was gay, something I had really known for as long as I could remember.

I was raised in a heavily Christian family, with all of the values that came with being a believer instilled in me. My relationship with God was always strong, but I struggled. My father and brother were equally conservative, and I can vividly remember nights when I would sit uncomfortably at the dinner table as my family debated the sinfulness of legislation passed in a given state to legalize same-sex marriage.

I had to hide as a method of survival. School was absolute hell for me: My elementary and middle school years consisted of walking through the halls being harassed and tormented simply for being different. They saw through my facade, and any attempt to build it up again came with more rounds of bombardments. The happy, fun-loving kid that I once was had been hidden and beaten down, and I was living day-to-day just fighting to survive.

Pinkerton Academy cross-country changed my life. The boys I saw around me quickly became my best friends. Under the guidance and leadership of our coaches, Mike Clark and Mike Karthas, we endured grueling workouts and long runs in the brutal heat. I became the best of friends with the 25 guys on my team. Like running had always done for me, going to practices was an escape from the fear and pain that consumed me.

Yet these brothers, who supported one another through the toughest of workouts and practices, were unknowingly pushing me further and further away. Passive homophobia and comments that weren’t even intended to be used as method of harassment made me uncomfortable and feel distant. My fears that the past would continue into the present were becoming true.

My head coach, Mike Clark, who had been going on his 32nd year of leading Pinkerton Academy cross-country, had said he had seen all walks of life enter his locker room, and he emphasized the importance of embracing diversity. I tried to brush off the comments of my teammates as simply “boys being boys,” and I continued to train and compete with the team. As my sophomore year came to an end, we were the New Hampshire State Champions two years running. Although the seasons came and went, the gut-wrenching fears that followed me through life were continuing to encroach on the locker room.

The summer after my sophomore year, I hit rock bottom. The depression that consumed my life made it difficult to get out the door and run. I rarely left the solitude of my bedroom. I was quickly losing motivation to try out for cross-country that fall, all while losing hope for the future.

Running was no longer an escape, as so much effort was swallowed by living in fear and trying so hard to be someone I wasn’t. Suicidal thoughts were hanging over me, and the thought of ending my life was becoming increasingly real. I stood in the mirror and looked at the wreckage staring back at me: Deep blue eyes surrounded by distraught redness from painful tears gazed back.

When I failed to show up to the first day of try-outs, my coach called me, asking for me to return.

“The season won’t be the same without you,” he told me. I timidly agreed to be at practice the next morning.

During warm-ups with the team at our first home meet of the season, I built up the courage to come out to one of my teammates. He was stunned.

“You’re still one of my best friends,” he told me, “and it doesn’t matter to me that you’re into guys.”

I was relieved, until one of my other teammates turned around and yelled, “Wait, you’re gay?”

Like one of those old Western movies when an outsider walks into the saloon and the music stops as everyone turns and gazes, I quickly realized that all 25 of my teammates were staring at me awaiting an answer. I was horrified.

“Yea,” I said, “I guess I am.”

My worrying had all been for nothing. My teammates rallied around me, saying that it truly didn’t matter, and that I was still the same Garrett they knew and loved. One of the kids who had been notorious in my mind for being especially passively homophobic came up to me and apologized for his words.

“I’m dedicating my race to you today,” he said. “I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable, and I will be here for you no matter what.”

Since that day, our team has gone on to win two State Championship titles – four in a row! I’ve never felt more comfortable and happy living genuinely.

My teammates are my brothers, and I know that each and every one of them will always have my back. We stand together.

Today, I am one of nine athletes in the United States on the Sports Equality Foundation’s student-athlete advisory board. I also work with the You Can Play Project contributing to presentations at New England schools about the sometimes-homophobic culture that exists in sports.

Everyone in my life – my parents, brother, friends, teammates & coaches – all love and support me.

I lived too long in fear of the unknown. I have never been happier, and now I live my life by the motto, “Live genuine.” If my story can inspire even one person, if I could be the role model and voice of hope that my 13-year-old self so desperately needed, then I will have succeeded.

Never again will I be silent or live in fear, and I long for the day that no one ever has to either.

You can find Garrett White on Facebook, and on Instagram @garrettwhite10. You can also email him at [email protected].