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Having openly gay teammate helped college freshman runner come out to team

"Having someone to talk to allowed me to eventually be able to open up about my sexuality."

Josh Thorne
Josh Thorne

I was walking home with my cross country teammates, feeling loose and relaxed. The words that I had been struggling to utter for weeks spilled out so quickly it was uncontrollable. For a few seconds everyone was silent. Immediately after, I thought to myself: "Did I really just say that?" Some looked shocked and confused, and some looked happy and proud. Either way, I knew that what I just did would allow me to be myself around some of the people who mean the most to me.

About a month into my first semester, during homecoming weekend at University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, a lot of former teammates and past alumni came back to visit. A few teammates and I went to a party. While we were there one of them, Jason Hadley, and I noticed a guy named Justin who we heard was also gay. After meeting him, we both felt really comfortable around him and had a great time. Jason is also gay, and we became close and had a lot to talk about.

On the walk back home, Jason and I talked about dancing with Justin at the party, and having a great time. Feeling comfortable, I quickly blurted out that Justin was gay to teammates who didn't know he was. I felt bad at first about telling them about him, but it sparked a conversation that became the perfect opportunity to tell them about my own sexuality.

A day earlier, I would have been too scared to tell them, but seeing other gay guys who were friends with them made me feel at ease. After I mentioned Justin being gay, they looked at me curious as to what that had to do with me, and that's when I said "I'm gay". After the initial shock and confusion, everyone was very accepting. They all said that it was fine. Some of them said they had speculated that I was, so that made me feel better. At least it wasn't a surprise. I felt that I had people who really cared for me and wanted me to feel comfortable. This is what I had been hoping for when coming to college.

Josh teammates

Josh Thorne, with teammates Colten Trimble (left) and Jason Hadley.

Before this night, I had already told my roommate, Colten. It was within the first month of school. I had already become close friends with Jason and he became a person whom I felt comfortable talking to about my sexuality. I felt like I could talk to him about anything without fear of being judged or fear of him outing me to teammates.

Whenever Jason and I would talk about a guy or something that would out either of us, we would be very discreet. It became too much at one point and I decided to tell Colten. With a lump in my throat and a shy voice I asked him, "hey, can I talk to you about something?" He responded with a confused look on his face. I said, "I feel like I've been hiding something from you and I have to dodge certain subjects because we haven't discussed this yet." Then with an even more confused look on his face he said, "What's up?" I quickly responded with "I'm gay." When I said those words my heart started racing. I prepared for a terrible response but was pleasantly surprised with his reaction. Without hesitation he said, "That's fine. I don't want you to feel that you can't talk about these things because you're afraid you'll be judged. I won't judge you." Hearing that was a great relief and reassured me that I could soon be out to my teammates and coaches.

When I got to college I was very hesitant to come out to people at school, and I didn't understand why. In high school in Virginia, I was out to all of my friends, family, and teammates. But college was different. I was scared to death of what people would think and how they'd react. I moved from a suburb outside of a big city to a rural town. This change in scenery was what I felt that I needed, but in the back of my head I felt it would also hurt me.

Going in I thought that the people were different and they wouldn't accept me. When I met the team on my official visit I felt comfortable and nothing I saw would indicate that I wouldn't be accepted, but about a month from moving in I grew worried. Now looking at how I felt before moving in, I realize those feelings were completely unnecessary.

Meeting other gay athletes prior to coming out to my team gave me hope that everything would be fine. I think that having someone to talk to and discuss your worries and issues about coming out makes the process much easier. For me, that person was Jason. For the first few weeks he helped me feel at ease and I hope that I did the same for him.

This process has shown me that although some things may be scary, the hardest part in dealing with these problems in life is to be brave, but stay calm. Me stressing over coming out for the months leading up didn't help me at all. But, having someone to talk to allowed me to eventually be able to open up about my sexuality.

Josh Thorne, 19, is a freshman at the University of Mount Union, in Alliance, Ohio. He runs cross country and is on the track and field team, specializing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. He is majoring in Environmental Science. He can be reached via email at Joshua.thorne@live.com or on Twitter: @JoshAThorne  Instagram: @JoshAThorne and Snapchat: JoshuaAndrew2.