LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Kennedy Lohman quit taking her medication at the end of her sophomore year of high school.
She started taking Lexapro about six months earlier to help with anxiety and depression. But the prescription took away her personality. She thought emotional highs and lows would be better than feeling flat.
Kennedy, who was on the USA Swimming National Junior Team at the time, also quit swimming in May 2014. She felt no competitive drive.
Throughout that summer, she didn’t exercise. She seldom left the house. She woke up, watched TV, and rarely left her bed. She also frequently experienced withdrawals from suddenly stopping to take the medication. And since her friends were swimmers, Kennedy was alone.
“I was still struggling with myself and admitting my — or searching for my — sexuality and accepting that,” Kennedy said. “It was just a whole lot of negative emotions, and I was just sitting in my room all the time because I didn’t have anything else to do.”
Her older brother, Connor, was so angry she quit swimming that he stopped talking to her for a month.
“I felt like she was wasting a lot of talent,” Connor said of his feelings at the time Kennedy stopped swimming. “I was not happy with it.”
She hit a low that summer.
But her painful experience and then coming out as a lesbian allowed her to help make it easier for Connor as he later went through a dark time emotionally before accepting that he is gay.
Kennedy, who this year completed her freshman year swimming at Arizona, and Connor, who this year completed his senior year swimming at Brown, have always been close, and the last three years brought them closer.
“It’s made it so much easier and so much better having her there to guide me,” Connor said while choking back tears. “Honestly, she’s been my guiding force through all of it, and I don’t know where I would be without her.”
When she was 5 years old, Kennedy Lohman remembers expressing her same-sex attraction for the first time, and she got in trouble for it.
During kindergarten recess, she went around slapping the butts of girls. It led to her being put in timeout.
She asked her mom, Sabrina Wells, on the car ride home that day, “Is it OK for girls to like girls?” Her mom responded, “Yeah, that’s called being a lesbian.”
Kennedy admitted to herself around sixth grade that she is LGBT, but growing up Presbyterian in Louisville, Kentucky, she didn’t share it with anyone for another four years.
It was also around sixth grade that Kennedy, who started swimming at 7 years old, saw significant improvements in the pool. The spring of seventh grade, she competed at her first junior national championships, and among 13 year olds, she took fourth in the 200 breaststroke, fifth in the 50 breaststroke, and seventh in the 100 breaststroke.
So when she chose a high school, she went to the area’s best girls swimming program — Louisville’s Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls Catholic school. Her freshman year there, she won the Kentucky state title and the NCSA Junior National Championship title in the 100 breaststroke.
Kennedy also won Kentucky state titles in the 100 breaststroke as a sophomore and junior before an injury limited her performance at her senior state meet, and she won the USA Swimming Winter Junior National title in the 200 breaststroke in December 2013.
“She picked up the technique of breaststroke really easily, and that’s been her best stroke since she started swimming,” said Jake Schultz, a teammate of Kennedy’s since she started swimming competitively with Lakeside Swim Club until he left for college in 2013. “The way that she grabs the water and positions herself in the water is technically sound.”
Schultz, who completed his college swimming career in 2017, came out as gay as he was starting school at the University of Louisville. Schultz’s freshman year at Louisville coincided with Kennedy’s sophomore year of high school.
Kennedy didn’t see acceptance from Schultz’s former club teammates — and her high school teammates were mostly the same people, and it made Kennedy hesitant to tell them about herself. Schultz told Kennedy first hand that he’s gay, but as it spread through the rest of the team, a condescending tone was used. Then it became a joke with the boys to emasculate one another by asking each other if they were going to hook up with Jake.
“The guys on my team … were really just disgusting about the way they handled it, and the girls would go along with it and talk shit about him at practice,” Kennedy said. “It made me very uncomfortable.”
Her club team’s reaction to Schultz contributed to her worsening anxiety and depression. She had seen a psychologist regularly since middle school, but it was getting hard to hide her sexuality along with mounting swimming expectations. These factors led her doctor to prescribe anti-anxiety medication Lexapro during her sophomore year.
She told a couple close friends that year that she was gay, but she mostly kept hiding it and also tried to hide from her friends and teammates the anti-anxiety prescription.
It all became too much that May, so she quit swimming.
“I went to a meet in May, and I lost an event. I was like, ‘I’m done.’ I would get so upset with myself over losing,” Kennedy said. “I just wasn’t enjoying it.”
Without swimming practices or meets, she spent her days at home alone. After a couple months of an up an down personality and rarely leaving bed, her mom threatened to hospitalize her.
“Internally, I had to make a switch,” Kennedy said.
Along with her mom’s threat, a key turning point came when Kennedy met her first girlfriend toward the end of summer.
It was in the first month of his sophomore year at Brown when Connor Lohman unexpectedly got a call from his younger sister. Kennedy was crying. She faced a dilemma.
“She was like, ‘Connor, I kissed a girl. I don’t know what’s going on,’” Connor said of their phone conversation. “She felt like that there was something wrong with her — that she was broken — and she was really freaking out. And then I started freaking out, too. I started crying because I felt awful that I couldn’t be there to help her with that.”
He sat on the stairs outside the dining hall, and they talked for a while that night. Kennedy had fears of being kicked out of school and losing friends.
While being sympathetic, it brought to the forefront questions Connor was feeling, too — was he bi or gay.
“I knew it was scary for her, and it was also scary for me,” Connor said. “I had to be the big brother and reassure her that it’s OK, and she’s fantastic, and that there’s nothing wrong with it. I was also kind of saying that for myself at the time.”
Two months later in November, Kennedy told him for the first time that she is a lesbian. Comfortable with herself and with a renewed determination to get a college scholarship, she also resumed swimming that month after six months away from the pool.
Once his sophomore season of college swimming ended in 2015, Connor felt pressures of school and his sexuality. As the emotional toll mounted, he called Kennedy.
She flew to Brown the next weekend to be with him. Kennedy heard Connor had started experimenting with guys from one of his college friends, but Connor wasn’t ready to talk about his sexuality. She spent the weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, providing encouragement as they went for long walks and spent significant time talking.
“She understood what I was going through even though I didn’t really understand it,” Connor said. “She just made me feel like … it was OK not feeling great, and it’s not normal but it happens, and that we would get through it, and I would get through it.”
When he came home that summer, Connor revealed to her that he kissed a boy for the first time during the spring semester. But at that point, he was determined to still present himself as straight.
By Thanksgiving that year, Connor felt comfortable enough to say he’s gay for the first time, and Kennedy was the first one he told.
“Every time I made a little step towards accepting who I was, she was just always there backing me every step of the way,” Connor said.
Kennedy felt out and proud by that point. She’d been dating the same girl for more than a year, and that spring, she tried to convince her high school to let her bring a same-sex date to her senior prom — the school rejected her proposal.
When Kennedy left for school in Tucson, Arizona, that fall, she went back to hiding her sexuality. It was a trip from Connor during her first month there that helped change that. Kennedy asked him not to reveal her sexuality to anyone, but he was open about being gay with her friends. She initially told him that his visit embarrassed her, but it also let her know she could be open about her sexuality.
A couple weeks after Connor’s visit, Kennedy came out to Arizona teammate Matt Salerno, and a few days after that, she sent a picture on SnapChat with her longtime girlfriend.
“People started joking with me about it and asking me questions,” Kennedy said. “I was like, ‘Oh cool, they accept it.’ ”
Connor’s college swimming career ended in February at the Ivy League Championships. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior took 16th in the 200-yard breaststroke in his final college race.
Kennedy, who is 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, excelled in her first season at Arizona. She took sixth in the Pac-12 Conference in the 100-yard breaststroke and 17th at the NCAA Championships in the event. She also helped the Wildcats’ 200 medley relay finish sixth at the NCAA’s to earn All-American honors.
“Freshman year is always an adjustment, and she definitely had to adjust,” said Daniela Georges, an Arizona sophomore swimmer last year. “I think that Kennedy has really found her niche in the team, and I can’t wait to see what she does, because it’s going to be really exciting and really powerful.”
When Connor came home to Louisville the summer after his junior year of college, he says he didn’t feel enough pride in being gay to go to Kentuckiana Pride, the name of Louisville’s Pride festival and parade.
By the time he arrived home this June, he suggested to Kennedy that they go to their hometown’s Pride parade.
It was a Friday night, and just the two of them went together.
“He was really excited and got super into it. People walking by would give him a high five because he was screaming so loud,” Kennedy said. “He always talks about how frustrating it is for him to come back and not feel like he belongs here. It meant a lot to me to see him that happy and comfortable with himself at home.”
It was Connor’s first Pride parade, and since Kennedy is 19, they kept the celebrating tame.
“It was a really good time,” Connor said. “I had my sister next to me, and it was kind of a big step at the end of a long journey that we had taken together to accept who we are and not try to hide it from anybody at all and just be proud.”
They each bought a rainbow tank top at Kentuckiana Pride. Kennedy’s was rainbow all over. Connor’s had the word “Louisville” in rainbow colors.
“It was just extremely beneficial to have another gay sibling,” Connor said. “Whether or not we wanted to be gay, we both were, and we came to terms with it and then we just needed each other for support.”
Kennedy Lohman, who will be a sophomore on the University of Arizona women’s swimming team in 2017-18, can be contacted through Instagram @KLo_74, Twitter @KLo_74, Facebook, or email at email@example.com
Connor Lohman, who is starting a master’s program in biomedical engineering at Brown University after completing his undergraduate degree in May, can be contacted through Instagram @ConnorLohman or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.