I knew I was attracted to men in high school, but thought I was going through a phase. It wasn’t easy.

I grew up in a tough neighborhood in Freeport, Illinois, in a low-income area and raised by a single mother. Fortunately, I excelled in school. I tested with the smartest children in the community so I was in the classroom with the children of highly educated parents and we became very close as we advanced in the same program for the next seven years.

When I got in high school it was hard for me to find friends and I wouldn’t let anyone get to know the real me. I battled depression, neglect and harassment and constantly got into fights.

While I was going through all of this, I was exploring my sexuality and spent a lot of time questioning it. I knew I was sexually attracted to men but my eyes were drawn to both sexes. It was challenging because I hid this from all my friends and family until the end of my senior year of high school.

I was being faced with a difficult challenge and that was to find myself through the negativity. I began expressing myself through sports and many different forms of art, mainly with photography and drawing.

H. David Rials’ portrait of Malcolm X.

After a year of focusing on athletics and my creativity, I began to excel in them both. I became captain of my track team and the president of the National Art Honors Society in my district during my senior year of high school. This brought positive people in my life and I started to feel growth, but I knew there was more locked inside to let out and I stayed private about my sexuality.

I came to college at Southern Illinois University and made new and amazing friends who helped me continue to express my creativity, athleticism and sexuality around them willingly. I made the decision to come out to people as bisexual because of Outsports’ Instagram page, which features quotes from out LGBT people in sports.

I’ve never been so welcomed as when I came out to my closest teammates.

I had been following this page for many months and it gave me so much pride to see athletes across the world tackling the journey of expressing their sexuality while competing.

I’ve allowed myself to come out to my team because of the quotes the page provide. I’ve never been so welcomed as when I came out to my closest teammates. It led me to understand our drive to compete was and will never be about our sexuality.

It was at the beginning of this year when I finally got the courage to begin coming out to my teammates after spending a year and a half hiding it from them and only sharing my sexuality with my non-athletic friends.

There was no specific reasoning to me hiding it. I just felt that everything would change but when I did come out, nothing changed, it just got better. I was able to be myself around them without any judgment. I first came out to my closest friend then went down a ladder by the people I most relate to. Everyone was so open and welcoming to it and it opened my eyes even more to the bond I have created with some of my favorite people.

H. David Rials runs the hurdles for Southern Illinois.

My teammates and friends on campus give me courage to be who I am and the ability to trust that whatever I do, people will either see the light that I shine or cast their own defense from it, but either way through thick or thin, I will shine. I am in my third year of college and able to express to most of my teammates and friends about my sexuality and all the things that brought me this far and what is pushing me to go further.

When I am on the track running the 110- or 400-meter hurdles, I run my heart out through every barrier or hurdle that is in my lane and push to the finish line. I take these races and apply it to my life, expressing who I am with my friends and teammates and it has only brought me good will.

My teammates drive me to become a better me on the track. Being in the trenches together through horrible workouts and being able to express that in competition is a feeling hard to put into words. I still have so much to experience on and off the track.

H. David Rials, 21. is a junior at Southern Illinois University, majoring in Communications Design with a minor in Business Management. He runs the 110- and 400-meter hurdles for the school’s track and field teams. He can reached via email ([email protected]) Instagram (@Shpacious) or Facebook (tripp.rials).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

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