Being an athletic kid in a small Montana town, coming out wasn’t ever going to come easy. Until I did it.

Up until about eighth grade I had always pictured myself with the perfect house, the perfect wife, and the perfect family. When I figured out that I was into guys, I had so much fear. All my best friends were jocks and my family owned a conservative sporting goods store in town. My county voted overwhelmingly for the Republican ticket for the White House. I had reason for the jitters.

My parents wanted me to focus on sports when I entered high school, but I just couldn’t. I hadn’t heard of many gay athletes. In fact I had never met anybody who was gay other than my uncle, whom I had met only once before.

I just needed to learn that normal is boring. Perfection isn't real.

I was afraid that once people knew I was gay, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I love anymore. I thought I would lose my friends, teammates, family, and everything else in my life that I cared about. Having such a conservative history I had heard a lot of homophobic things in my life.

I thought people would no longer consider me normal or perfect.

I just needed to learn that normal is boring. Perfection isn't real.

I came out last year, when I was a freshman at Ronan High School. Coming out to my teammates was one of the best things I've ever done.

The first time I really talked to my team about being gay was at a team dinner. I was lying on the couch taking funny selfies on Snapchat with one of my good buddies on the team. We were lying pretty close, so of course the one person who knew that I was gay had to make a comment about it.

“Ew you're cuddling with the gay kid?” The “ew” was a joke. The fact that he outed me wasn’t. I braced for my teammate’s reaction.

He sat up, looked at me for a minute and asked me if I was really gay. I told him I was. He just stared at me for a few more seconds. Then…

“Ok cool.”

He lied back down next to me and started ahead, snapping more funny selfies.

A few weeks later I got a text message from him. He had heard a homophobic comment made by someone about me, and he wanted to reach out.

“I will always be there for you,” he texted. “I hate seeing people be hateful towards something that they shouldn't be.

“I only want to see you happy.”

My other teammates have been by my side too. One of the runners on another team at a meet a while back directed a homophobic slur at me. We all heard it. My teammate wasn’t having it.

She went over to these people told them that they needed to stop immediately, or she would have them kicked out of the meet. She then came to me and made sure I was OK.

My teammates have continued to be some of the most accepting, supportive people, and I really appreciate everything they have done for me.

Tyler Joachim runs for Ronan High School in Montana.

The love has gone beyond my teammates.

My best friend today, the captain of the football team and the wrestling team, is one of the most accepting people I know. One of the most valuable things he said to me was when we were skiing together. We had never really talked about me being gay before, and we were just sitting on the lift, talking about it for the first time. I’ll always remember one particular thing he said.

“It’s all about love, isn’t it?”

I carry that with me through the hard times I have.

Something else I carry through the hard times is my faith. Some people might find that strange as a gay guy, but my pastor has made it so very real for me, as he has been one of my biggest supporters through all of it.

I actually came out “officially” at my church youth group with a whole big announcement in front of the group. We were talking about everyone’s views on the gay community. When it was finally my turn to share I broke down in tears, telling my classmates that I was gay.

My pastor didn’t blink. He told us that there was nothing wrong at all with being gay. Sine then he has been one of my biggest supporters and has managed to help me balance a steady faith through all of this.

I had my share of struggles after I came out, no doubt. Yet there was so much support from so many people in my life, particularly my teammates. I choose to dwell on the support, not the problems.

I love being free to just be myself, and I love the fact that I can just be real with my friends.

When the problems did get to me, and sometimes they did, the one thing that gets me through it all is my passion for running. If something bad happens at school, I’ll come home go for a run, and it will all feel better.

Running is my therapy. Running has helped me so much, throughout my high school career.

Today I am the happiest I have ever been. Coming out was hard at times, but staying in the closet was a lot harder. I love being free to just be myself, and I love the fact that I can just be real with my friends.

It’s not always easy, but believe me, I would never ever change who I am, or how I’ve done things.

You can find Tyler Joachim on Facebook. You can also find him on Twitter @boorex_cp, on Instagram @tyler.willz, and on SnapChat @puffle_face. You can also email him at [email protected].

Story editor: Cyd Zeigler