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This gay all-conference college athlete came out thanks to a $700 vacuum

Ben Lindaman was a standout at Univ. of Northern Iowa.

Ben Lindaman was a decathlete at the Univ. of Northern Iowa.

Never in a million years did I think I’d come out over a vacuum discount. I also never thought I’d be sharing my story publicly in this fashion.

The terms “Midwest” and “homosexual” are words that were never synonymous in my mind. I observed my fellow peers and classmates who were “different” and the ways they were treated. I was infused with the ideals that society preaches about aspiring to heterosexual marriage. Yet growing up, I had thoughts about being homosexual swirling around in my pubescent mind that were enough to keep me up most nights.

These confusing thoughts were only compounded with the success I achieved as an athlete on both the high school and collegiate level - where homosexuality is not universally accepted. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to stumble across messages in the media reinforcing homophobia in sports. In my mind, it was just easier to fall in line with society and suppress those gay thoughts as much as I could… until one morning when I was home on break from college.

Through the power of the internet and an application on my phone, I connected with a very handsome man who worked for vacuum company, Dyson. A friendship that still continues to this day blossomed during the fall of 2012 - albeit a friendship I did not know at the time would be a pivotal component to my coming-out story.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving break during my junior year at the University of Northern Iowa, my mother said during a family dinner that she had her eye on a $700 vacuum made by….Dyson. The millennial in me immediately jumped onto my phone to text my friend to inquire about what I deemed was a severely overpriced vacuum.

During the conversation, my friend had expressed that he could provide a significant discount as an employee to reduce the vacuum cost to a mere $200. I was completely shocked and was ready to sign on the dotted line immediately.

My friend brought me back to reality when he asked how would I explain to my mother how I showed up with a $700 vacuum as a poor college student. Understanding the story I would have to fabricate to make that discount and story work was too hefty, so I brushed it off.

When Black Friday rolled around, I was sitting in the kitchen with my mother. She was thumbing through the local ads in the paper and spotted that $700 vacuum for a grand total of $600! Anxious to jump on that deal, she encouraged me to get in the car with her to go pick up the Dyson vacuum. In the back of my mind, I could not in all good conscious let my mother overspend on a vacuum that I knew had a significantly reduced priced waiting for her in Chicago.

The moment of truth had arrived that I’m sure almost all homosexual individuals feel when they tell their loved ones they are gay. Fighting through the nerves and sweaty palms, I finally pulled the trigger and spilled the goods.

My heart dropped into my pinky toes as I watched the tears swell up in her eyes.

“I still love you with all my heart,” she said.

There is no person I respect and love more than my mother, and her validation was all I needed. I knew then that everything was going to be okay.

In terms of coming out to my track team, I was very selective with whom I revealed my darkest secret, and I pre-mediated each coming-out very carefully. To my relief, I received nothing by positivity and outreach from the dozen or so friends and teammates that I came out to over my junior and senior years.

Having a strong science background, I know that research says “correlation does not always equal causation.” Still, I have a hunch that coming out had an impact on both my junior and senior track seasons, the best of my career. I earned Missouri Valley All-Conference honors and multiple academic accolades. I guess subconsciously I was more free.

My ultimate hope when people read this story is an understanding that it is okay to be unconventional. Whether it is being an athlete who is gay or coming out over a vacuum discount, it’s your life and you have to be in control of what you do. That’s something we all can aspire to do, whether gay or straight: taking ownership of your life and not watching it from the sidelines.

I continue to get chuckles when I tell my story about coming out over a vacuum discount, but for those that know me, I embrace the unconventional side of life.

To this day, the vacuum works great.

Ben Lindaman is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa where he was a 4-year member of the Men’s track & field team as a decathlete. He received his B.A in Movement and Exercise Science. He is also a recent graduate from Thomas Jefferson University with his Doctorate in Physical Therapy. He can be reached at @ben10events on Twitter and @ben10dpt on Instagram.