From the first days I began playing sports, I always let myself believe that every dribble, every shot, every run, and every finish line meant a world championship. Playing backyard one-on-one basketball games with my dad, park and rec games with my friends, or running every race from the first time I put on running shoes, every moment moment was game 7, every step an Olympic race. I’ve always approached sports that way – that each time we participate in sports, it can carry so much meaning.
With my dad’s prodding I eventually ditched the basketball and focused on running. I’ve thanked God ever since I made that choice. I love running. I’m good at it. I was a captain of my high school cross-country team both junior and senior years where I was first-team all-league all four years of high school. But my favorite high school achievement was being an integral part of my high school’s first boys team in any sport to make a state final.
Although sports was a huge priority in my life, I always told people my three priorities in order were: God, family and running. I always made time to go to church youth groups throughout the week, pray, and attend my local church every Sunday. While hitting that game-winning shot or breaking the tape first was always a thrill, God meant everything to me.
As I began community college at Moorpark College, just west of Los Angeles, I began leading Bible study for a junior high school youth group, and teaching them how the Bible’s teachings could apply to everyday life. I was trying to set a good example for kids, but I was also conflicted. Buried beneath the perfect image I was desperate to convey, I knew something was different – I was gay.
I told myself that God would not give me a temptation that I could not handle, and I convinced myself I still had a choice whether to be gay or straight. I really liked the identity of being a God-fearing athlete and unfortunately convinced myself being gay would contradict what I stood for. I was taught and would even tell others that marriage was only between a man and a woman.
My sophomore season running for Moorpark was a great year. I had a great coach and great teammates who laid down the foundation for things to come after I transferred. Although I didn’t run great for Moorpark, my team finished seventh in Southern California for cross-country and second in state for track and field.
After my two years at community college, I ultimately decided to run for Humboldt State and not attend a Christian school. In fact, it was as far from a Christian school as you can possibly get.
I didn’t have a great first season in Humboldt, but I grew to love running through the lush forests and all of the beautiful trails Humboldt County has to offer. I suddenly liked living in a small town and I realized that the guys we had were great people, and I was able to communicate well on and off the field with my coach.
I eventually finished 22nd in the West Region, something that as a former walk on, I am really proud of. I felt like all the hard work all these years was validated but I would soon realize that it was fleeting.
After graduating from Humboldt, I suddenly had no teammates, had no beautiful place to run, had no goal of going to nationals, I was still running great workouts, but I began drinking more, and sleeping less. For the first time, I felt I was running up a hill without a peak. I once again got involved in church but it had no effect on this increasing anxiety I suddenly felt everywhere I went.
Finally there was a night run where I realized I couldn’t escape. I was running a routine nine-mile loop, feeling stronger than usual, hammering each mile through the streets of the San Fernando Valley. My ipod nano was blasting Eminem’s “Not Afraid” and I began through the crosswalk at my fast clip.
Before I could react a white Honda with an unaware driver was heading straight for me
The car’s brakes screeched for a moment and – WHAM! – it knocked down to the pavement.
Somehow I hardly had a scratch on me. I guess I was supposed to feel lucky, but I was despondent. I thought if I had been killed, I would have died with no one knowing my secret.
People would know me for the guy who ran great when the chips were on the line, the guy who would always be down to throw down a few beers, and most importantly, the Godly man who helped others with their spiritual walk. But they wouldn’t have known who I really was.
It was that day that I realized, regardless of the risks or consequences, I had to come out of the closet.
It wasn’t an overnight proposition. I continued to live a lie, but I now knew – like the light at the end of a tunnel – the day would come.
It was actually in the middle of a night. I called my best friend’s girlfriend Lauren and told her my truth. She was great, assuring me she would be home in a few weeks so we could tell my best friend together. She held to her promise, and I finally told Alan through tears that I didn’t have a girlfriend, I was dating a man.
They gave me a hug and walked me through telling family and other close friends.
I realized that my coming out process didn’t reveal that I was gay, it just allowed others to take part in my journey. Just like I love going on runs with no route in mind, I still don’t have all the answers to where I am turning next, or what I will see when I round the next corner.
But what I have experienced is that when I am vulnerable with my friends and family, I am allowing them to show me love that I have never had before.
God still loves me, and there are people who love me more than I possibly understood before I began this journey. I wasn’t sure of that when I took the first step, but I can finally say I am at peace with the man staring back at me, and I can finally see the top of that hill.
Stephen Kilroy, 30 is a graduate of Humboldt State University, where he majored in history and was a member of the cross-country and track teams. You can find him on Facebook. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.