I’ve always found it hard to share emotion. I find solace and comfort in my independence.

On the outside, I always try to be happy and carefree. I thought it best to keep others from having to deal with what I assumed to be my issues. I believed that I would scare people away if I shared too much.

For many years I’ve used running and racewalking to stay sane. Miles and miles of self-therapy. I fight and train every day to prove myself worthy of being called an elite. From Italy to China to the Olympic trials (2016), I’ve always pushed my hardest at every race. That’s because on the track, no one cares if you’re gay, just as long as you get to the end faster than everyone else.

I competed for a small, Catholic university in Iowa for all four years of cross country and track. Saint Ambrose University was where I received my bachelors of science and where I am currently enrolled for the Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology. It’s an NAIA division school that helped me to continue my racewalking and running career.

Although everyone was kind to me, it was intimidating being a closeted kid at a small, Catholic, Midwestern college. I went my entire undergrad hiding who I am.

The first person I told was a close friend and teammate. I was terrified. I never even said it out loud, but now I was going to tell one of my closest friends.

We were in his dorm room. I told him I had something important to tell him but I just couldn’t spit it out. We just sat there in awkward silence while I tried to gather the strength. Eventually, he pulled out his Xbox and told me we could just play until I was ready to talk.

After a few too many rounds of me losing, I finally just blurted it out. He was silent for a while. I swore I could hear the blood rushing through my head I was so nervous. He turned to me and asked if I was telling him because I liked him. I quickly reassured him that I thought of him as more of a brother.

He turned around and went right back to playing video games and (roughly) said, “[I]f you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. I don’t care who you like.” I was so relieved. He was completely reassuring that this wouldn’t change anything. We just kept playing video games like usual.

It was a huge relief just telling one person. Eventually, I mustered the strength to tell more of my closest friends and eventually my family.

All I received was love and understanding. They didn’t care whom I found attractive, they just cared about me.

Finally, and unexpectedly, I created a post in August to tell the world the truth.

The responses I got were powerful and accepting. All optimistic, all supportive, and all positive. Ironically, the first two people I told, were also the first two people to favorite my post. This whole thing started and ended with their acceptance.

The surplus of happy replies was incredibly empowering, and frankly, made me regret being so afraid to say something in the first place.

Some of the best responses I had were from my coaches and friends.

One that actually made me laugh to myself was one of my coaches. I saw her send one of those heart reactions on Facebook, then she favorited the same post on Instagram, but then, minutes later, she sent me my workout. That’s it. Business as usual because to her, nothing changed.

Since coming out I’ve been peppy on the outside AND the inside. I’ve even racewalked and run my strongest practices.

Another moment was when I told my friend during a pre-meet practice. We were just doing some mileage when I kind of just uttered it out. She just looked at me, then the path, then at me and just exclaimed a long and happy “awwwwwww!” She was so excited that I was able to tell her something so emotional that she almost tripped in a small hole. Her genuine response just warmed my heart.

Since coming out I’ve been peppy on the outside AND the inside. I’ve even racewalked and run my strongest practices.

Anthony Peters hope to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.

I have been a runner for 11 years and a racewalker for 10. I am a six-time collegiate national champion for the NAIA (three outdoor 5,000 meters, three indoor 3,000 meters) and an eight-time collegiate All-American. I have competed around the world for various USA teams since high school. I competed at the USA Olympic trials for the 20k racewalk (2016, eighth place) and was the 2018 champion for Penn Relays.

I have been a top contender for the USA Outdoor and Indoor track and field championships and am training to compete in professional races and to make more USA teams. I am an Olympic development athlete and am therefore working my hardest to qualify and compete at the Olympics to achieve my dream. I am both nervous, yet proud, to pursue my dreams as an openly gay athlete.

For most of my life, being gay was my deepest darkest secret. To be honest it still feels odd having it out there. Yet, I’ve never felt so free.

I wish that my story could help even just one person to feel like they can freely be themselves. Independent or not, people care about you. They care about what is best for you. Otherwise, why else would you keep them around? In a race, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay. As long as you are out there giving it your all, who cares?

Anthony Peters, 22, is a racewalker and 2018 graduate of Saint Ambrose University in Iowa where he majored in exercise science and human performance & fitness and was a member of the men’s cross-country and track teams. He is currently enrolled in the Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology at the same university, and is working to qualify for a few USATF national teams along with the 2020 Olympic trials. He is actively looking for sponsorship and can be reached at [email protected], and @petersanthony13 on Instagram.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski