“Proud of you John!”

“Just wanted to say I’m happy for you. I’m glad you told us today, mad respect. I hope you’re much happier now.”

“You’re my hero.”

The night before my life completely changed, I sat in my room exhausted from a full day of classes and swim practice at Virginia Military Institute. As thousands of other things went through my mind, I kept saying to myself that tomorrow was the day.

How are my teammates going to react? How are they going to treat me after this? What are other people at school going to think? How is the rest of my family going to react? What are my roommates going to say?

As all of this ran through my head, as it has for the past couple of months. I texted my best friend and former teammate in high school and she got me to remember that life is too short to pretend being someone else.

Come that Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, I had a couple of tests that kept me distracted, but as classes ended, I knew it was going to happen that day. Not because it was also National Coming Out Day, but because I had a good feeling that it was time to be me.

This year I was elected as captain of the men’s and women’s VMI swim team, a 45-member, Division 1 swim team. As a captain on the team, I focused on working with teammates and coaches on bonding and cohesiveness.

If I wasn’t honest with my coaches and teammates, how could I expect others to be honest with me?

If I wasn’t honest with my coaches and teammates, how could I expect others to be honest with me? That’s why I wanted to come out to the team. I couldn’t keep being this other person when I needed to be my authentic self.

I texted my two best friends, with whom I swam in high school, on my club team and told them. The response I got was astonishing. “Of course, I’m with you and I love you, brother. This couldn’t have been easy, so huge respect for that.”

The words I read not only gave me courage, but a sense that everything was going to be OK.

I got down to practice a little earlier than usual and was waiting for both of my coaches to come down on deck. Since my head coach is new this season, I had no idea what to expect since we haven’t had the chance to get that close yet. Waiting nervously, I thought that maybe I would do it another day, but I knew today was the day.

I first told a co-captain and she was very supportive and stood next to me when I asked my coaches if I could talk to them privately. “Coaches, I have been meaning to share this with you since the first day of the season, but after some setbacks, I am finally ready to share … I’m gay.”

The reactions I got from them were support and happiness. I asked my coach if I could tell the team, and he agreed. I asked the team to hop out of the water, and everyone gathered around.

As they surrounded me, many of them confused as to why everyone was out of the pool, I began talking. “Hey guys, I’ve been meaning to tell you something that I’ve been meaning to share for a while because I consider you all more than just teammates, but friends and brothers and sisters: I’m gay.”

As it got quiet, I began to hear some murmurs, then cheering. I got some pats on the back and felt like I was on cloud nine. When I jumped into the water and started swimming, I couldn’t get the smile off my face.

After practice I got back to my room and got messages from teammates saying how proud and happy they were of me. I then decided to come out to the world. I posted my coming out on Instagram, and have received amazing support from friends, family, former teammates and even former swimmers I coached over the summers.

“ I love you coach John, we miss you!”

“Proud of you coach.”

“Missing the days of training, proud of you! I hope all is well. “

….so I guess you are what you eat…big and gay…sorry ladies .🌈 .🌈 .🌈 It wasn’t until today till I told some of my best friends and most importantly my teammates about my sexuality, being gay. Since early on I knew I was gay, and it wasn’t until high school that I was for sure, but I didn’t tell anyone, I thought it would just phase away. Then once college started, being at a Military school, I didn’t know what do if someone knew I was gay. . Flash forward to this summer, I went to my first Pride in DC with my best friend, and realized that there isn’t any reason to shy away from who I really was, and through new friends and support from old friends and family, I got the courage to finally come out. And after today, I feel like a whole lot has been lifted off my chest. . I’m still a student, swimmer, coach, son, brother, dog dad, friend just also gay. .❤️ So be you, be proud, have fun, and don’t do ordinary cause that’s boring! . Happy #NationalComingOutDay #instaguy #instagay #gay #werkit

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And as a cadet at Virginia Military Institute, I didn’t know what to expect. My fear was based on the school being conservative and tradition-laden. That fear has been laid to rest based on the support I’ve received.

Our days are regimented and quite different from that of other college students. My day starts at morning formation at 7, then classes in a period from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by swim practice from 4 to 6:45 p.m.

After that is evening formation at 7, followed by dinner. By the time I get back to my room it’s already 8. From then until whenever my homework gets done is study time.

Classes vary from your major classes to your ROTC courses or leadership courses throughout your cadetship. Though it’s a small military college, I have met some of the most genuine people, professors and coaches, offering help and support whenever needed. The school generates a close-knit bonding experience, which is why I got such an amazing response from my team.

By telling my story, I hope that I can help anyone who is struggling to come out. I realized I was gay in high school, and it still took me until I was 22 to feel comfortable telling my story.

Being a swimmer for more than 17 years, I always wanted to fit in and be the cool kid, but I always thought that being gay wouldn’t let me do that.

In addition, I have coached swimming during the summer for seven years and wanted to inspire my swimmers to excel in the pool, have fun, and be themselves. But I never followed my own advice, fearful that they wouldn’t respect me because my sexual orientation. But I was wrong and now know that I can be myself.

After coming out, I can now live fully by the motto: Be you, be authentic and have fun doing it.

John Kim, 22, is a senior at Virginia Military Institute and Captain of the VMI Keydets swim team. He is majoring in Biology and minoring in Exercise Science and planning on pursuing a career in the Navy as a physical therapist. He can be reached at [email protected], @jkswim on Instagram, and on Facebook.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski