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A small award from his teammates meant the world to gay college runner

A strong sense of family at Utica helps Joshua Moeckel feel at home.

Joshua Moeckel

At my college’s most recent cross-country banquet, I noticed how at home I felt with my team as an openly gay athlete.

At our banquets we have an unofficial tradition of giving out awards made from paper plates. These little awards note various accomplishments or fun things that have occurred during the season.

This year I was awarded the prestigious “Team Dad” award. This award signified someone who was a reliable team member who may not have been the top runner, but was still a leader and someone teammates could go to if there was anything they needed.

Although this may have just been a simple paper plate, the award meant a lot more. Having the respect of my team and knowing that I was able to become someone they could rely on meant so much to me.

Ever since I came out to my teammates, my relationship with them has only grown stronger. After a few weeks of being on campus at Utica College in upstate New York, while we were all hanging out, I decided it was time to tell them I was gay. It took a bit of time to build up the courage, but I just took the leap. Although many were surprised, they all took the news very well. None of them gave me any negative feedback and were happy that I was able to come out to them.

My story began when I started running in the 7th grade. I grew up in Burnt Hills, N.Y., about 30 miles north of Albany, where I led a pretty normal life. My parents put me through endless sports such as baseball, football, soccer, and none of them seemed to feel right. When I entered the 7th grade, I knew about track from my older brother and sister who were big role models in my life. I started off as a sprinter and struggled with the sport, but once I switched over to distance running, things started to fall into place.

While my running career was starting, I knew I had other, deeper issues in my life. From an early age I knew I was not like my other friends. They all talked about girls and I would play along, but I knew I was gay for a while. I struggled with it endlessly.

Thankfully for me, running made this process easier. During practice I was able to block out the thoughts racing through my head about being gay. All I focused on was working hard and getting faster. I was able to laugh and joke around and be myself and not struggle with my internal fight.

As my middle school and high school years passed, I began to slowly come out to my friends and teammates. Family members came much later, except for my sister who I can remember coming out to in vivid detail. It was one of the biggest markers in my coming out story because she was the first family member I was able to truly feel comfortable with telling.

I remember her picking me from a night of hanging out with my friends when I was in the 8th grade. She could tell that I wanted to say something to her but I didn’t know the right way to say it, so she started guessing. First, she asked if I was having girl problems and I shook my head no. She then asked if I was having boy problems and I shook my head yes. After a few minutes of crying, talking, and a little more crying, I had successfully come out to my first family member.

Even though this was a big accomplishment in my life, I still had so many obstacles to overcome, the biggest one being coming out to my teammates and coming to terms with accepting myself. Everything felt like a daily struggle, but going to practice and running was an escape. I knew that in order for me to truly feel like myself, I needed to come out to my teammates.

I started with my close friends who were on the team and from there word spread. I did fear that some negative feedback and I worried about bullying, but by my senior year, I felt like I was truly myself.

Starting college was just like going through the coming out process again. Even though I was happy with being myself, the fear of not being accepted by a group of people in the sport that I loved was a real fear. One of my high school teammates was also on my Utica track team and that made things a bit more comfortable, but I was still terrified of going through the coming out process.

When I started my college running career, it was a whole different world than I thought it would be. The running became more challenging, my schedule completely changed, and the thought of being the only gay athlete on my team was still looming over me.

I knew that the sooner I came out the better off I would be. After only a few weeks of being at school, I let my whole team know that I was gay. I was welcomed with nothing but open arms and acceptance. I went from being scared of being rejected, to feeling like I belonged. They didn’t only welcome me as another teammate, but also welcomed me for who I am.

I knew at this point I wanted to make a difference not only on my team but in my campus community as well. I joined my school’s Gay Straight Alliance to start making a difference and hopefully allow others to feel as comfortable with themselves as I do.

In the end, being an out and gay athlete made me a stronger and confident person. It taught me to be myself and to face challenges head on. I know that there are many other athletes in the LGBTQ+ community who may not yet be ready to come out.

For those who are not out, I want to say to stay strong in whatever situation you are in and come out on your own terms, and to know that there is a community of other athletes who are here for you and here to support you.

Joshua Moeckel is currently a junior majoring in psychology at Utica College in New York. He runs both cross country and indoor and outdoor track and is also an active member of his schools Gay Straight Alliance. He can be reached via email (jmoeckel15@gmail.com) or on instagram (josh_moeckel).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski