At the age of 3 my parents enrolled me in wrestling and gymnastics, a decision that would have a profound impact on my personality.
Training and competing in two mentally and physically demanding sports taught me how to live a disciplined and mentally balanced lifestyle. As I grew older, I began to compete at more advanced levels, eventually finishing eighth in my age group in the state of Ohio for wrestling when I was in sixth grade.
When I was a freshman in high school, I noticed an incessant burning in my feet. Every time I planted my foot or landed a dismount, the pain would shoot up my foot and was unbearable. Multiple x-rays later, my doctor informed me that I had spurs growing on the navicular bones in both of my feet. The bone spurs were rubbing and tearing at my tendons, accounting for the unbearable burning sensation.
The only option was to undergo surgery to remove the spurs and repair the tendons. This left me in two plaster casts and wheelchair-ridden for months, along with repeated physical therapy.
It was during this recovery process that I began to take a look at my life and asked myself the most important question of my life: “Am I happy with who I am?”
I had always known that I was gay. When I was little I just felt different than the rest of the guys. I wasn’t into G.I. Joe, cars or football. I had always wanted to hang out with my twin sister and her friends. I never felt the emotions my guy friends experienced with women, but I knew that I had those emotions for men.
This was a secret that I kept hidden from the outside world until I discovered the sport of diving.
Everyone in high school knew me as a wrestler. I traveled and competed in the sport for 12 years. I come from a small town of just 2,200 residents where everybody knows everybody, so it is hard to break a mold that people have placed you in.
Yet I secretly hated the sport.
I didn’t always hate wrestling, but I began to just feel burned out. It was no longer enjoyable. Wrestling is such a “manly” sport, so I always felt like being openly gay would make me an outcast. This was a time where I was not happy with who I was. I did not want to be gay. Every now and then I would hear gay slurs coming from my teammates and even coaches, so I was living in constant fear of my teammates discovering my sexuality.
My emotions, mixed with the atmosphere that surrounded me, started to become toxic to my health. The only thing I wanted in the world was to just be open and be myself.
The wrestling room at Cuyahoga Heights High School overlooked the natatorium, so I would always see the swimmers practicing. My eyes would always be drawn to the diving board. For years I would look at that board and wonder what it would be like to be a diver.
Sometimes after practice I would put on my trunks and go do some flips and twists off of the board. At the time it made me feel happy like little else did.
My school had never had a male diver so the thought of it was unsettling to me. I felt that if I started diving and wearing speedos then I would be outed. Diving was looked at as a feminine sport in my hometown, and some people had the thought that wearing speedos automatically meant that you were gay. Not even the swimmers wore speedos.
I couldn’t let these small-town fears undermine my own happiness.
I quit wrestling and began springboard and platform diving my sophomore year of high school with a local team, Flyers Diving, that would travel the country competing at USA Diving meets. I quickly adapted the skills from gymnastics and wrestling to perfect my diving abilities. It was not long before I was competing at the state, regional and national levels.
It felt awesome.
My coach and teammates quickly made me feel like I was family to them. It was refreshing to have a connection with all of these individuals from outside of my school and hometown. Although they did not know I was gay, I could tell that they would be accepting if I decided to come out.
It was around this time when I first started to get into a romantic relationship with another man. He made me feel like I was wanted and cared for. It was uplifting to be able to be myself around someone.
I also read Greg Louganis’ autobiography “Breaking the Surface,” which was a powerful story that made me feel like I was not alone. He has since become my biggest role model, and I was fortunate enough to meet him while I visited the 2016 Olympics in Rio and tell him just how much his story meant to me.
Greg gave me the courage to be open with myself and to those around me while showing me the potential my life had.
One of the first people I came out to was one of my best friends, Holly. We were in her car parked in her driveway when I looked at her and told her that I needed to tell her something serious. There had always been rumors that Holly and I were a “soon-to-be” couple, so she got really nervous and thought that I was asking her to be my girlfriend.
Her reaction to me telling her I’m gay was priceless, and she has always been very supportive.
I then told my teammate and friend Miranda.
“It’s about time,” she yelled. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for years, I finally have a GBF!”
I then told my close guy friend on my diving team.
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me sooner” was followed by an incredible bear hug almost sending us into the pool.
Word quickly got around my hometown that I was gay. It didn’t bother me one bit. Surprisingly to me, I received many text messages about how proud people were of me. Some of the messages came from guys on the football team and even my old wrestling teammates.
Coming out to my coach and teammates gave me a new-found motivation and love for sports. Before I used to compete to show people that I was more than just my sexual orientation. My motivation was to excel in order to mask the fact that I was gay. Diving was an escape from the real world. On the diving board I was being judged for how well I executed a dive, not for who I loved.
Now I competed as a confident gay man who was proud of who he was.
It was with the support of my coach, teammates, and being open to myself that led me to compete at a state and national level, ultimately leading up to a second place finish at the OHSAA State Diving Championship my senior year.
Brandon Rosolowski will graduate from the University of Toledo this year, where is a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. He will be attending The University of Toledo College of Medicine in the fall. He can be found on Instagram and Twitter @B_Rosolowski, or via email at Brandon.Rosolowski@gmail.com.
Story editor: Cyd Zeigler