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I came out as a gay athlete and you can, too

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Dalton Ray told his story a year ago and he reflects on how his life has changed for the better.

Feb. 12, 2015, my life, as cliched as it sounds, changed for the better. I posted my coming out story about being a gay high school football player on Outsports and now year later I'm writing this article for anyone looking for support, guidance, or debating whether or not they want to tell their story.

If you feel ready to share your story with the world, if you feel like you can help someone, then I say do it! If you're sitting there questioning whether or not your story will help someone, my response is that in a nation of over 300 million people someone will connect with your story in some way, shape, or form, sometimes in ways you wouldn't even expect.

None of us have the same story but we all have similarities. It's these similarities that connect us. If for now you just want to find support and guidance, contact the remarkable founders of Outsports, Jim or Cyd, (outsports@gmail.com) and they can get you in contact with someone they think can help.

The reactions I received from my article were overwhelming to say the least. The week the article came out, positive and encouraging emails, texts and Facebook messages from family, friends and strangers came flooding in.

"You inspire me and so many others to be themselves and to not let society bring us down. I admire you for being you and for breaking down barriers"

"Proud of you bud. Nothing but respect then and now"

"You are an amazing and inspirational guy. So many people can relate to this in more ways than you can even imagine. The message is beautiful."

The night before my article came out, I was lying down in bed thinking to myself, "What are people going to think? What will my family say?" I was already out but no one knew I was going to go so public about being gay. Then I remembered my eighth-grade self, lying in bed, crying, thinking to myself, "What's wrong with me? No one can ever find out, and please God let this be a phase." I knew what I was about to do was essential.

If my story could help someone, make them feel less lonely, then any backlash would be worth it. Luckily there was very little, and only from people whom I didn't even know. The important part was my whole family was extremely proud, and my friends loved that I was finally being true to myself and taking a stand.

Students around campus (I was a freshman in college at the time) would come up to me at the rec center or on the sidewalk to congratulate me. What I thought was really humbling, though, were the emails I received. Hundreds of supportive, empowering, and heartwarming emails came in. Some were short and sweet, others were quite long. They shared their life stories filled with ups and downs, and what seems like the impossible decisions of family/friends or being true to ones self.  These life stories reminded me just how lucky I am and how much I want to help others who have the same struggles I did.

Last year was by far the most incredible year of my life thus far. After my story came out it opened up so many doors to me. I experienced things I never thought I would do at 19 or 20 years old.

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I attended one of the nation's largest LGBT conferences, the Midwest LGBT College Conference. I learned about our history and was made aware of the issues we still have at hand. I even got to hear Laverne Cox speak. Her diction, dedication and devotion were inspirational to say the least.

Later that year I got the unique experience to write another article for a small local Magazine in Madison, Wisconsin, called OurLIves. It was a great feeling to do something a bit closer to home. But possibly the most empowering experience for me personally was the Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Portland, Oregon.

It's honestly hard for me to put that weekend into words. Not only did I go to my first pride parade, but I also marched in it. At the summit, I attended fantastic and inspiring workshops and panels, but what really made the whole experience so special and memorable were the remarkable individuals I met. When I left Portland, I left with a new outlook on life and amazing new friends.

Even after coming out I still felt isolated sometimes. Coming from a small town in Wisconsin there weren't many LGBT individuals, let alone LGBT athletes. After my story came out, it's almost like I gained a whole new family. Other Outsports individuals welcomed and congratulated me on sharing my story. And now whenever someone new joins the group, I make sure to shoot them a message too.

A year ago my life transformed for the better thanks to Outsports. Sharing my story was one of the most humbling and rewarding things I've ever done. So if there's one thing you take from this, it's don't let the fear of not knowing stop you from taking a chance. You never know what amazing things will come from the unknown.

Dalton Ray, 20, is a sophomore at Madison College in Wisconsin majoring in communications. He can be reached on Twitter or Instagram @daltonlray, on Facebook (Dalton Leo Ray) or via email (Dalton.Leo59@gmail.com).

Here are some photos of myself with other LGBT athletes at last year's Nike summit:

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