Tuning the rest of the world out while sprinting full speed down the runway and flying into an open pit of sand makes me feel a calm like nothing else. All the other fears and stresses of everyday life fade away for a few moments as all I can see is the sand getting closer and closer. Little twinges in my leg nag at me as I push to go faster.
SMACK! My foot hits the board. I take off. I feel careless and free. Nothing else matters as I – WOOSSHHHHHH – hit the sand.
I always knew I was gay in a few senses, but I had trouble coming to terms with it myself until I started dating a boy for the first time my senior year of high school. Before that, running and jumping were ways to escape my thoughts about the “What ifs”: What if I was gay? What if people didn’t like me anymore?
There lies such a specific idea of masculinity in sports, and most people don’t associate being gay with being an athlete. Coming from a really small high school, everyone knew everything about each other, and nobody was openly gay.
I didn’t have to think about this when I was running, jumping. I had to think only about myself and my performance.
I kept the fact that I was gay mostly to myself and a couple close friends. At least that was the case until one particular dual meet. I was between events, and a close friend and I were walking around the track together. She held my hand as a joke, and my coach’s eyes lit up.
“Oh Davis, are you dating her?”
My friend quickly explained that I was gay and laughed. My coach got stern, saying how that was a serious topic and not something to joke about. She reaffirmed that indeed I was gay. His response? An awkward fist bump as he walked away to tend to other athletes.
After coming out in high school and finding some degree of acceptance there, I felt somewhat ready to move on to college. In high school, I was the popular kid and everyone knew me, so my friends learned to accept me for who I was. In college, I knew no one at all.
Headed to a bonding exercise early my freshman year I was riding in a car with three other teammates. I stayed really quiet, still a bit nervous to talk too much. Eventually we got on the topic of tattoos because my captain had one on his arm. He asked me about mine – The moment of truth.
I told him I got mine because track helped me escape the rest of my life, and that it was drawn by the first person I ever came out to. I took a chance, but I felt like it was the right thing to do.
To my surprise, nobody really reacted that much at all. There was neither love nor hate that came next, just a general acceptance. Apparently, there had been someone on the team the year prior that was also gay, so I was not the first. They made me feel like being gay was as arbitrary as my hometown, and that made me so comfortable. It was not as big of a deal to them as I assumed it would be.
A few weeks later, I went to a party with a few friends. I got all ready to go out and we started walking down the hill. All the friends I surrounded myself with my freshman year were girls, and people always assumed I was dating one of them.
We got to the party and I walked over to a table where a few other friends were sitting. At this point, I had told only three other people, and even though it had gone well, I was still nervous. My teammates were the last people I wanted to tell, but a few of them were around that night. One of them came over and said hi. He said he recognized me from Facebook, and I remembered us discussing possibly rooming together.
“Oh yeah, aren’t you gay?” He asked.
My whole world stopped. I couldn’t breathe. Members of the team and some new friends were in earshot. Suddenly they knew. I nodded and muttered, “Yeah.”
Whether those were the exact two words or not, that was the sentiment everyone expressed when I told them: cool.
It wasn’t taboo, or gross, or scary, or different. It was cool. They were at some level apathetic to it, which is almost exactly what I wanted.
There was such a long time that I felt like I had to work 10 times harder to get the same respect as all my other teammates. I had to make myself seem as good as, if not better than, the rest of my team to be treated the same. In reality, this was never the case. But I always felt like I was so different from my teammates. I wasn’t really close with or friends with almost anyone on the team because of this difference.
Two years later, everything is entirely different. Most of my best friends surround me on my team and accept and love me for who I am. I used to shake and stutter if I even hinted at being gay to someone. Now I speak openly, and I write about it all the time.
One of my classes last semester required us to write a lengthy research paper, and I wrote about LGBTQ athlete visibility. I learned so much about the community and myself. Now the school is making a “You Can Play” video, which I am heavily involved in now.
The more open that I’ve been, the better I have performed, and the better I have felt mentally.
A few weeks ago, one of the freshmen on the team made a homophobic comment, and everyone around him on the team stepped up and said something. That is the culture I wanted to create on this team. Accepting yourself, and having all those around you fully accept you, can be difficult. I feel that sharing my story could help someone else, just as I was helped by seeing other athletes share their stories.
The more people who are out, the more the message spreads that it is okay to be gay, whether you are an athlete or not.
Kyle Davis, 20, is a junior on the Ithaca College track and field team. He is a long and triple jumper who is studying Physical Therapy with a minor in Sport Studies. He can be reached at email@example.com and found on Twitter @kyledavisnt and Instagram @the__crocokyle.