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Gay athlete finally found his niche in ultimate

"'My skills on the field matter more than my sexual orientation."

For some people, sport is the gateway to. For some, sport is the gateway through. For me, sport was both.

Growing up, I was kid who was frequently bullied and always had a hard time in school. Fortunately, I was involved in physical fitness from a young age and it became part of my life. When I got to middle school, I joined the soccer team. When I got to high school, I was mostly involved in dance because I needed something physical to do outside of my love for music. It was during these years, I began to struggle with depression because of being bullied in school from a young age.

It was towards the end of high school that I got involved in marching band as a percussionist and volleyball, but all through high school, I was wondering what I would do after after graduation. I graduated with honors and went off to college. I found sport as my gateway into my next step in life.

I spent my first few years in college in marching band with an intramural sport on the side. I continued to struggle with depression because I was in an environment where I was harassed about who I was as a man, because I was in a religious school surrounded by a lot of ignorant and bigoted people. I dropped out because things got hard to the point where my entire experience was being affected negatively.

It was when I transferred to a new university, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, that I was introduced to ultimate (known by many as ultimate Frisbee). Having no idea that intercollegiate ultimate existed, I was shocked to see all the opportunities that existed in the sport, in college and beyond.

Once I began to excel at ultimate, I saw many great changes in my entire college experience. As I was entering my last year of college, I decided to continue playing on the school team. It was a tough year for me as I had to balance class, study time, a job, volunteering at church, and playing on a club team. But I managed to do it all and well.

Despite trying to suppress my sexuality all these years, it was during my semester that it hit me and I realized I was gay. It was a scary moment for me because I was raised in a religious environment. I was able to get through that moment and I started to become more comfortable in my sexuality.

As our team was getting ready to go to our first tournament of the semester, one of the first people I came out to was a teammate whom I could trust. To my surprise, he was cool with it. About a month later, I began to come out to the rest of my teammates. Most of them were accepting and reminded me that my skills on the field matter more than my sexual orientation, which is basically how I felt. I was able to finish the season successfully as a player and be part of a significant team in our young program's history.

It was through my experience being on the field and being part of the team that I began to love the sport and desire to continue playing after college. One of the main reasons I was able to graduate college is because I was able to be part of a team, which motivated me to stay in school.

After college, as I was struggling to establish myself in the workforce, I couldn't find the time to get back into competitive ultimate because of various conflicts and struggles. Then there came a time in which I decided to move to another city in hopes for a new start. I was fortunate enough to get a fresh start and get back into competitive ultimate.

It was through my most recent season living in Boston that I have come to the full realization that ultimate is the sport that I truly love. All that I learn and continue to learn in and through this sport only takes me higher. The friends I am making are a huge blessing to me. It is with the love and support of my friends and family that I am encouraged to excel. I find that the power of sport can bring hope and positive change where there was once despair. Finding a sport that I love and can grow in is something that I cherish.

As one of the few openly gay athletes in my sport, it's an honor to be one of those who is helping pave the way for LGBT athletes. It's a great feeling knowing that I can defy the stereotype that gay people can't play because I know that my sexuality doesn't stop me from doing what I love. As I continue to play ultimate, I hope that my example of leadership, dedication and excellence will inspire all people to become better in all they do.

Samuel Johnson, 24, lives in Boston where he plays ultimate. He played collegiately at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He can be reached via email (great9800@gmail.com) or on Facebook.