One has a lot to think about when standing up on a 10-meter platform watching droplets fall to the water below.
Being an international student so far from my home in Australia, one of the things I wished for was that my family and friends were there to see me. But this time, standing on the 10-meter for my first dive at the 2017 NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis, I felt like I had already won.
As a freshman at the University of Wyoming I had won Western Athletic Conference Diver of the Year, set records and was in the national championships. This year, I qualified for the NCAA Finals and won All-America honors on the 10-meter platform for the second year in a row, the only member of my school’s swimming and diving program to ever do so.
And I did it all as an openly gay athlete. In fact, I credit coming out as a catalyst for making me a better athlete.
It all began when I was 10, riding up front in the car with mum in Melbourne. It’s funny how parents like to use cars to trap their children to participate in awkward conversations. It was a normal day and I was playing with my little pony and Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” when my mum turned around and asked me if I liked boys. My reply was short and brief — I simply said “I don’t know” — and went back to playing with my dolls. My mum smiled and said OK.
It took me a long time to come out as gay. Six years later when my mum asked me the same question I had the confidence to say yes. It was not a big deal, as she smiled and we moved on and went out to breakfast.
The only thing that my mum stressed was that I should never try to hide who I am for anybody. I learned very quickly after coming out that my true friends would still like me for me and other people might not but that is OK. Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” had some really wise words: “Be who they are and say what they feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
The nurturing support from my family created a strong basis for my confidence and self-esteem, which in turn has helped me to become the man and athlete that I am today. My family is the most supportive and accepting people in my life, and are fierce advocates not only for gay rights, but for human rights and equality for all.
In 2017, I decided to leave the nest and travel to the University of Wyoming, 9,500 miles from Melbourne. With college came a new wave of coming out, one that I also felt at the private Catholic high school that I attended. In high school I felt like diving would help me to gain respect so I pushed harder and harder, which helped me to become the athlete that I am today.
At Wyoming, I was nervous at first that living in such a conservative state would present troubles and would push me out of my comfort zone. The truth was totally different. When I arrived, the swimming and diving team was incredibly accepting and allowed me to be myself. They not only tolerated me being gay, but appreciated and valued it.
I had already come out to a few of my teammates and my roommate before coming to college. I thought that this was the best way for me as it would give people whom I did not know yet time to process an aspect of my life and how they felt about it. It turned out that they did not need to process it at all. Many had already guessed or assumed and the reaction was incredibly positive.
My teammates made me feel like it was completely normal and they were not fazed by the situation, which made me feel safe, confident and excited about my decision. Our swimming and diving team has students from all of the world and it becomes their second family; the team thrives on diversity.
With my close teammates on the diving team as well as other gay teammates, Wyoming has helped me come out ever further from my shell and with the help of my coach and diving team I have been able to grow, mature and flourish not only as an athlete but as a respected member of society.
With other gay teammates like my close friend Ryan Russi, Wyoming has created a safe space for all LGBT athletes and instilled the fact that you are valued by what you can bring to the table and what you can give to your sport and community instead of your sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity.
With the support of such a large team, officials and diving coach Kyle Bogner, confidence in myself and my everyday life has been transferred to the pool. Being accepted as a gay man and athlete has helped me excel in the pool and reach levels that I had never could have dreamed of as 10-year-old boy riding in the car with my mum.
Diving has really helped me to come out of my shell and be confident in myself and my abilities. With the confidence I have gained from diving it has been able to radiate into other aspects of my life and helped me to become sure of myself, confident and enthusiastic as well as allowing me to be a more positive and giving person.
Diving has helped me to express myself and my sexuality in a positive way and has inspired me to be the best athlete I can possibly be. When I stand on the 10-meter platform it gives me a sense of satisfaction that people are judging me on what I can do and how I can perform instead of aspects of my personal life.
Diving has helped to show me that my sexuality, like being an athlete, is just another part of who I am and it does not encapsulate the whole picture of who or what I am. Being a 20-year-old who happens to excel in diving as well as being gay are just part of what makes up my personality.
My message to all LGBT athletes: It is important that we all have the resilience to accept and express who we truly are with courage and without fear.
Scotia Mullin is a sophomore at the University of Wyoming studying a double degree in Anthropology and Geography. He is also a member of the school’s swimming and diving team. After college he hopes to work in epidemiology as a public policy-maker, ideally on the HIV epidemic in Africa or in public and aboriginal health. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, before immigrating to Melbourne, Australia at age 7. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @scotia.mullin on Instagram.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski