We joke that we're each other's reward for the tough times we've endured. For us, reaching this place of calm and peace in our lives wasn't easy. We ventured down vastly different paths to find each other.
Last year, on a glorious morning on Aug. 8, we became Mrs. and Mrs. Liu in a secluded cove on Maui's Makena Beach. It was the happiest day of our lives. With our one-year anniversary having been reached, we'd like to share our story with you. We do so in hopes of changing perceptions and shining light on those who may feel alone, trapped or discriminated against by stereotypes of females and minorities in sports, business and in the LGBTQ community.
I'm Abi, a business entrepreneur and head coach of a competitive swim program in Northern California. Every day, I'm blessed to have the opportunity to guide and mentor young athletes to try to reach their goals and potential in and out of the pool. I feel extremely fortunate to have had success in my professional life doing what I love. It's a long way from my traditional upbringing — a long way from the little girl who grew up in a small southern town in China who, at the age of 13, packed her bags and left her family as the youngest recruit of the Chinese National Swim Team.
I'm Kristen, but my friends call me KR. I was born extremely premature and by all accounts, I shouldn't even be alive today. I grew up in the safe haven of Palo Alto, Calif., a quaint community neighboring Stanford University. At the age of 3, I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss. Even the perfect little bubble of my hometown couldn't protect me from life's harsh realities. I felt alienated and struggled to fit in. It wasn't an easy period in my life, but I refused to let my hearing loss define me. I adjusted to my new life, learned to read lips and was determined to persevere.
I guess you can say our determination to overcome obstacles and push boundaries brought two seemingly different yet similar women together. We initially met in 2009 as neighbors. Four years later, we reconnected on Facebook. Then on Abi's birthday in 2013, we bumped into each other and bonded over spilled Starbucks at our mailboxes. We connected right away. We saw each other again the following week when Abi brought KR a care package after her surgery. Later, Abi admitted the package was an excuse to see KR again. We texted and talked almost every night and whenever our hectic schedules allowed. We were falling pretty hard for each other. Christmas Day, we shared our first kiss. We became engaged eight months later.
We were alike in so many ways: We both endured the pain of losing or leaving our dads during our adolescence. KR's dad passed away when she was 13, the same age that Abi left her dad to join the national team.
We also both found success and fulfillment in our respective fields. As a young competitive swimmer, Abi was a national record holder, won the National Championships twice as well as the 1993 FINA World Cup and was a silver medalist at the 1994 Asia Games. As a coach, Abi's swimmers have been recognized as USA Swimming and Pacific Swimming Age Group record holders and Top 10s, Olympic Trial and National qualifiers, Junior National and Sectional finalists and Far Western and Junior Olympics champions. She is a former Pacific Swimming Age Group Coach of the Year.
KR also shared a passion for sports, finding success as a young basketball player. She's currently an advocate for championing new products that enhance the way we hear the world. She's launched some of the most disruptive hardware lifestyle tech brands on the market, from iPhone cases and portable power to wireless headphones and smartwatches and currently, augmented audio devices. She's been awarded a U.S. Congressional award, made Silicon Valley's Top 40 Under 40 list, as well as been named to the 2015 Women on the Move by Women's Business Journal for her advocacy in hearing health and technology.
However, despite our successes in our professional lives, we felt incomplete in our personal lives. We struggled with our identities and found ourselves in and out of bad relationships. When we met, only KR's family and closest friends knew about her sexual orientation.
Abi also had not come out yet and only her small inner circle knew. For Abi, coming out was especially terrifying because of the cultural barriers she faced. After struggling with indecision, Abi's love and commitment to KR gave her the courage to tell her parents. They didn't receive the news well and she and her parents didn't communicate for months. The rejection was a dark period in Abi's life. Their approval was slow in coming but Abi's folks eventually came around. It was liberating and exhilarating for both of us to have our family, friends, colleagues and Abi's swimmers finally learn that we're gay and more importantly, accept and embrace our union.
Now, one year after our wedding vows and each day since we first met as neighbors, we cherish each moment together. We don't take our happiness for granted. In telling our story, we hope that others in the LGBTQ community have the opportunity and courage to seek and receive their own reward for the obstacles and harsh realities they've faced and may continue to face.
Abi Liu is the head coach of PEAK Swimming and COO and co-founder of Saratoga and Milpitas Star Aquatics swim schools in the Bay Area. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn. KR Liu is the Director of Accessibility and Advocacy at Doppler Labs, the company behind Here One and serves on the Board of Directors for the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Consumer Technology Association (Audio Division).She can be reached on LinkedIn.