A little over six months ago, I made a decision that would’ve sent me into an anxious tailspin had it been a year earlier. I decided I was going to come out, and not just out to my friends and family. I was going to be out. Publicly.

My teammate Michael and I from Lehigh University were given the opportunity to publish an article on Outsports for National Coming Out Day. If you Google my name, it’s one of the first things you’ll find. If you choose to read it, you’ll see that my sexuality was something I struggled with for most of my life before I finally came to terms with being gay.

You’ll see how freeing it was to have my family and close friends know the whole me and how made running feel like flying. What you won’t see is that until I decided to come out with the article, I had still been stuck on the ground. I woke up with my heart pounding on the morning it was published because my story wouldn’t be a secret anymore; that reality was terrifying.

I was scared, and I was scared for a lot of reasons. I was still getting used to the feel of forming the words “I’m gay” in my mouth. I didn’t know how the rest of my teammates would react, if the friends that I hadn’t told yet would be upset, or if my extended family would still treat me the same.

I wondered if it would influence people’s first impressions of me or if my sexuality would become my defining characteristic over everything else that makes me me. I couldn’t help but to worry about whether or not people would still take me seriously as a runner and if I’d now always have something to prove.

I had a lot of irrational fears. I know now that they came from a place of insecurity that I had yet to fully conquer. National Coming Out Day was the most terrifying day of my life, and yet the happiness that I experienced alongside that fear made everything worth it.

I remember reading the first few texts from my friends congratulating me on my bravery and saying how glad they were that I felt comfortable enough to share my story. My family members reached out with love and acceptance and made sure I knew I’d be received with open arms when I came home.

To have so many people cheering me on and celebrating my courage to be myself was a feeling that I can’t put into words.

I started to cry when I read the comments on the coming out post I had also put up on Instagram because I hadn’t been prepared for such genuine kindness. To have so many people cheering me on and celebrating my courage to be myself was a feeling that I can’t put into words.

By the end of the day, I had cried more times than I could count. They weren’t tears of sadness, though. They were tears of relief when I realized I didn’t have to hide anymore and could be the person I was meant to be. They were tears of gratefulness for so many compassionate people making me feel welcome. They were tears of joy when my mom called me to tell me she was so incredibly proud that she could call me her daughter. My eyes were dry and red from so many tears, and my face hurt from so many smiles.

I noticed that some of my insecurities started to slip away. I began to feel more confident and assured in myself, and I was a better runner because of it.

I had worked incredibly hard to get closer to being the athlete I wanted to be, but there was always something standing in the way that I couldn’t quite figure out. After that day, I came to the conclusion I had never fully put myself into running. I had been so focused on hiding a large part of myself in fear of what my teammates and coaches and competition would think that I failed to consider how holding such a huge secret affected me.

Previously, I would never contribute to conversations about relationships or celebrity crushes, avoided every situation that had even the slightest potential for bringing up my love life, and stopped myself from sharing a lot of my interests because I feared they were “too gay.” There were far too many times where my mind would be swimming in the anxieties surrounding my sexuality being outed, and I couldn’t enjoy the simple act of running because of it.

Coming out was like waking up on a sunny morning after a week’s worth of rainy days.

I withheld so much of myself from both my team and the sport I loved, and it was exhausting. Coming out was like waking up on a sunny morning after a week’s worth of rainy days. While basking in those rays of sunshine, it felt like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. I could join in on conversations and make jokes about celebrity crushes. I could try to give my friends relationship advice and make jokes about being understandingly clueless when it comes to boys. I could comfortably admit that all a TV show had to do for me to be interested was have a gay character.

I could fall in love. And I did.

I remember the warmth I felt in my chest the first time I took her hand in mine, and I still feel that warmth every time our fingers intertwine. I never thought I was much of a dancer until she made a playlist of songs that reminded her of me and wrapped her arms around my waist while we swayed to the music.

I didn’t notice how beautiful the color blue is before she told me it’s her favorite color, and now I can’t help but to be amazed by the depth of the sky. I thought cheese and dumplings and soup were just average foods until I saw how her eyes light up and the excited smile that spreads across her face whenever she can order them when we go out to eat, and now I see the greatness in them too.

Her smile is brighter than that sunny morning. Because of her, I’m a better person. I’ve grown and changed in ways that I never could’ve imagined were possible. She makes me laugh, holds me when I cry, and has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen. Every single time I look at her, I honestly can’t believe how lucky I am. Life is an endless and wonderful adventure with her, and I can’t wait to experience more of it.

When I was debating whether or not I wanted to come out, it was like walking up to the edge of a cliff. With my toes just barely touching the edge, I thought about where my decision would take me. I could turn back and let myself succumb to the fear and pain that had plagued me for so long, or I could move forward towards the stunning horizon possibilities that sat in front me. I realized there was a chance that I could fall, but there was no way to find out other than stepping over the edge.

Sometimes you have to be brave enough to leap to discover if you can fly.

That’s how I found my wings.

Susie Poore is a student of Lehigh University’s class of 2021. She is planning to major in English and Political Science and is a member of the women’s cross country and track teams. She can be reached by email ([email protected]) or Instagram (@susie.poore).