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Bi college track athlete started to shine once he saw himself as normal

Sam Layding used out Lehigh University teammates as inspiration.

Sam Layding runs track and cross country for Lehigh University.

I’ve always had a hard time making decisions.

Whether it’s something as simple as choosing what I’m going to have for dinner or deciding where I was going to attend college or what I want to major in. It can be hard to decide on something when you’re faced with options that all have their own pros and cons.

I’ve made a lot of life-changing decisions in the last few years, but one of the biggest and least-expected ones was this past fall when I decided it was time for me to come out to the world as bisexual.

In the back of my mind I’ve always known that I was different from most of my peers.

When I was younger, I was a shy, awkward kid. To be honest, I still am. I can remember being in the first grade and having a crush on a girl in my class, and having a crush on a boy in my class. By the time I was in middle school I was still in that same place.

I vividly remember being in the sixth grade and having a classmate ask me for the first time, “are you gay?” I knew that I was interested in girls, so my answer was almost immediately “no.” Even though I knew I had same-sex attractions, I chose to ignore them in hopes that they would eventually go away. I understood sexuality as binary but felt like I didn’t fit with either label.

I don’t think I knew the word “bisexual” until sometime during high school, but by then I wasn’t really concerned with my sexuality anymore. I started running competitively my freshman year and immediately discovered that I loved it.

I accomplished a lot in a few short years, barely missing a state 3,200-meter title in high school, setting some freshman records at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and then earning a medal at the USATF Junior Track and Field Championships in 2016. By my sophomore year of college, though, my insecurities came back with a vengeance, and while dealing with some long-term overuse injuries they consumed my thoughts for months.

Without running to define myself, I was forced to do some serious soul-searching. That summer I finally admitted to myself how I had always known I felt and decided to put a label on it. It was a huge feeling of relief. I wasn’t planning to tell many people, but when I got back to school something I never expected happened: my first-year teammates Michael Mitchell and Susie Poore wrote an article for Outsports where they came out to the world fearlessly as gay.

I can’t tell you how many times I must have read their article in those first few days. I had never had an openly LGBT-identifying teammate at Lehigh, and for the first time ever I felt like I wasn’t totally alone. I had a big smile on my face at practice on that rainy Wednesday.

That weekend, I went home for fall break and decided to tell a few of my friends and family the way I felt for the first time ever. They were totally supportive and not surprised; I couldn’t have asked for a better reception. A few of them would even turn around and come out to me.

Over the next few weeks at school, I gradually told more of my friends and teammates. I didn’t get a negative reaction from a single person.

I ended up inadvertently coming out to several teammates at our cross-country formal, and felt a lot better in the next few days as we all road-tripped to Louisville to watch a teammate compete at nationals.

After spending some time with my friends and family at home over Thanksgiving, I got back to Lehigh and had a long talk about life with my teammate Matt Kravitz (he recently came out publicly as gay in Outsports).

Afterwards, I decided that it was time for me to tell the rest of the world how I felt via an Instagram post.

You can spend your whole life running from something as hard and as fast as you can, but you can never outrun yourself. I’m bisexual, and it’s something I’ve known about myself pretty much my whole life.

I never wanted it to be true, though. I always prayed that one day I would wake up and stop feeling the way I did. I wished that I could be secure with myself, and what that meant for me was being “normal” and being able to fully relate to my peers.

Eventually, though, I realized that there isn’t any point in trying to be somebody I’m not. I’ve spent so much time and effort trying to change myself instead of just working with who I am. This is something I’m done running from, because it’s just been weighing on me for way too long.

I’m proud to be who I am, and I really don’t care what anybody thinks about that. I’ve got so many supportive people in my life, and I think I’m finally ready for this to give me some confidence instead of taking it away from me. And don’t worry, right after this I’ll get back to my usual goofy Instagram captions ️‍

I cried a lot that night, but the next day I went for my morning run and walked to class with what felt like an unbelievable weight lifted from my shoulders.

Since coming out, I’ve run a few personal bests, but most importantly I’ve felt much more comfortable being a happier and more authentic version of myself. The No. 1 thing that I’ve learned in the last year has been that you should always be yourself.

I literally spent years worrying about what I’d do if anyone ever found out about how I felt, without ever entertaining the idea that people simply wouldn’t care. The surge of people coming out on our team in the last year has made all of us feel more comfortable with one another and really helped us to take our friendships to a new level, which can only help us when we’re getting after it on the track, on the course or just on an easy day of practice.

Sharing my story isn’t just a way for me to continue to build my identity and express my feelings; it’s also a way that I can hopefully inspire another kid like me who thinks that nobody else in the world feels the way he does.

Sam Layding, 21, is a rising senior at Lehigh University, majoring in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Political Science. He runs the 5,000 and 10,000 meters as well as cross country for the school’s track and field and cross country teams. He can be reached via email (samuellayding@gmail.com) or Instagram (@thebiglay).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski