Throughout my life, I have consistently found myself frustrated with my inability to find the right words to express my emotions, my feelings or my love for other people.

But I was especially conscious of my helplessness one day in eighth grade, when in the passing period between classes, I thought I was ready to say the two words that had haunted me for months — “I’m gay.”

As soon as I whispered to my best friend that I needed to tell her something, my face immediately reddened, and the words lodged in my throat. I told her to forget it, but she would not. After her urging, I eventually wrote the two words on a piece of notebook paper.

Looking at her with eyes blurry from tears, I slid the paper across the desk and into her waiting hands. She started to cry when she read what I had written, hugged me tightly, and told me that she loved me no matter what.

Looking back on it, it’s funny to think about how small “I’m gay” looked upon a sheet of white paper, only taking up half a line with my small, cramped writing. The realization that the words always seem bigger than they are has steadily allowed me to come to terms with verbally expressing myself in the way that I always wanted.

The first time I said the words out loud was in the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, California. In my sophomore year, I had come out to a few close friends and family members, but it was always done through a text or a letter. I had never before dreamed about ever saying out loud, “I’m gay.”

This all changed on a chilly night in August 2013, when I was on a training trip with some members from my cross country team. We were staying in a house right next to Lake Tahoe, and one night after our coaches went to bed, we all sneaked out to the dock to watch the stars.

The conversation deepened, and soon, we were all sharing details about our lives, our families, our hopes, and our dreams. Sitting on that creaking dock, with the stars sparkling as brightly as our tears, we opened our hearts to our teammates, and I knew that I needed to come out.

But as with every time before, the words stuck deeply in my throat, and I remained silent.

Finally, when the chill seeped so deeply into us that our teeth were chattering, we started to collect our things to head back to the house. The only sounds were the lapping of the water against the dock, the soft wind tickling our faces, and the occasional sniffle as we all stood up to leave.

In that moment, I looked around at each of my teammate’s faces — my best friends — and the words finally came free.

“Guys, there’s one thing I have to say.”

The words tumbled out and lay quietly on the freezing dock while my teammates turned to me expectantly. I took a breath, and before the words could catch again, I said, “I’m gay.”

To hear myself say the two words that I had never before been able to say out loud left me weightless.

It’s difficult to describe exactly what that moment felt like for me — as I’ve said, words for these feelings don’t come easily — but to hear myself say the two words that I had never before been able to say out loud left me weightless.

After a brief silence, I started to babble incoherently, hoping to fill the empty void that settled over the dock after my reveal.

I only managed to stammer a few sentences before one of my teammates said, “Tucker, stop. It’s OK.” And then I started to cry. Before I knew it, each one of my teammates was hugging me, crying, telling me that they loved me, and in that moment, the dock grew a little less cold.

After that, each coming out became a little bit easier than the last.

When I got to college, the words flowed out of me, and my teammates and coaches at Amherst College have been just as supportive as my high school teammates. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of a group such as a team, and through my teammates, I have learned that the words, “I love you” hold more weight than “I’m gay.”

Tucker Meijer and his Amherst team made the podium at the NCAA Cross Country Nationals.

With the support of my teammates and coaches, I have been able to improve as a runner every season, from being named our conference’s Rookie of the Year my freshman year to becoming All-Conference and All-Region this past season and being a scoring runner for our team’s podium finish at NCAA Cross Country Nationals this season.

By sharing my story, I hope to make it clear that it’s OK if the words, “I’m gay” don’t come easily. Life is full of hills that you have to climb, and the challenge to say the words is just one of those hills.

But life is also full of beautiful valleys and incredible views that you can only experience by cresting the final incline.

When you get to the top, you can catch your breath and finally hear your family, friends, and teammates cheering you all along the way.

Tucker Meijer, 20, is a junior at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He is majoring in Film and English and is a member of the cross country and track teams. He can be reached at [email protected], and Instagram and Twitter @tuckermeijer.