A little more than a year ago, I was at Pride watching organizations from the Twin Cities, including professional sports teams, be part of an amazing Pride weekend and I had a single thought: “The Minnesota Vikings should be here.”

I had been a full-time employee for the Vikings for two months at that point, but I decided to pitch my idea to our leadership team. Fast-forward one year and in June, the Vikings had a presence at Twin Cities Pride for the first time.

With incredible support from leadership and staff, we had a booth all weekend in Loring Park where we had more than 2,000 sign-ups where fans could win an authentic helmet, SKOL Pride T-shirts and tickets to a regular season game.

The weekend was capped off with autograph signings from current Vikings player Stephen Weatherly and former Vikings player Esera Tuaolo (who is openly gay). The weekend was everything I could have hoped for and I cried tears of joy on multiple occasions.

The Vikings being at Pride meant so much to me. To see the organization I work for show their support for the LGBTQ community was incredible and the love and support I received throughout the weekend was overwhelming.

Amy Werdine with other Viking employees, including Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren, second from right, and former Viking Esera Tuaolo, left, at Twin Cities Pride.

I have been with the Vikings for two years and they have been the best two years of my life. I have a Pride flag on my desk and every time I look at it, I think how lucky I am that I have co-workers, family and friends who support and love me.

I love that I am able to be my most authentic self every day at work, but it wasn’t always easy.

I love that I am able to be my most authentic self every day at work, but it wasn’t always easy.

I’ve been a competitor and have loved sports since before I can remember. My dad loves to tell a story about how when he was coaching my YMCA soccer team and I was only 7, he got us in a huddle and asked us, “What’s the most important thing to do today?” The correct answer was supposed to be “have fun.” The answer I screamed out? “Be aggressive!”

From a young age I knew two things about myself — I was a competitor and I wanted to work in sports when I grew up.

When I was 17 and I realized I had feelings for my club soccer teammate, I initially pushed those feelings away. How was I supposed to focus on winning if I was focusing on these feelings? How could our team win a state championship in Florida if two teammates were dating and then it ended poorly? Was being gay going to hurt my chances at getting a job and succeeding at life?

These were scary thoughts, but my feelings were there and eventually I started dating a teammate in secret. It took me more than a year to come out to my dad and then eventually the rest of my family and some close friends. I usually can’t keep a secret from my dad for a day, but I kept this hidden because I was scared about how I felt, scared about how this could affect my relationship with my family and scared about how it could affect my future.

I came out to my dad a few weeks before I left home to start my college soccer career at Appalachian State University. I made him turn off our favorite show, “24,” and told him I had been dating my club teammate and that we were in love.

Werdine played soccer at Appalachian State University.

He hugged me and told me he loved and supported me no matter what, and we both cried. In that moment, I knew no matter what else happened, I was going to be OK. The rest of my family found out and loved and accepted me and I felt safe. But, a month later, I had to leave for college and I wouldn’t be around my family and teammates who knew the real me and that terrified me.

When I got to college, I tried to convince myself that my high school relationship was just a “phase.” I felt so alone when I got on campus and thought maybe it would be easier to just get over women and date men.

There were half a dozen openly gay women on my club soccer team, but when I got to college, not one of my new teammates was openly gay. I continued to struggle with my sexuality throughout my freshmen year, which led to conflict between friends, family and girlfriends.

As my sophomore year started, I realized that I was lying to so many people in my life who I loved and decided I was done lying, I was done hiding and I was done living a life that wasn’t making me happy.

I started telling my friends and teammates, I started posting pictures of my girlfriend on social media and I started talking about my dating life to my friends and family just like any other college student would.

I never truly identified as a lesbian until I started being my authentic self with those around me and it was liberating.

A funny thing happened after I started coming out too: I became more comfortable with who I was and starting truly identifying as a lesbian. I think I always knew I wasn’t confused and I wasn’t going through a phase, but I never truly identified as a lesbian until I started being my authentic self with those around me and it was liberating.

From that moment on, I have been out and proud and I have become an all-around better person because of it.

I decided that I could never go back in the closet and I was not going to hide who I was — people would either accept me or they wouldn’t. After college, I went to graduate school at LSU and after graduation, I started my career with the Vikings.

Because of the love and support I received from friends, coaches and family in college, I was confident in myself when I arrived at LSU and in Minnesota. It became easy for me to tell people I had a girlfriend or tell them that I was a lesbian.

I am so fortunate that when I landed a job at the Vikings, I was instantly surrounded by love and support. I wish I could go back and tell my 17-year-old self that everything was going to work out and I hope my story can provide hope for others that are struggling.

To those who are struggling, I encourage you to be your unapologetic self and I want to let you know that there are people and organizations that not only love you for you who are, but also truly support you.

Amy Werdine graduated from Appalachian State University in 2014 and received her graduate degree from LSU in 2016. She is the Guest Relations Coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings and can be reached on Facebook: Amy Werdine, Twitter: AmyWerdine and Instagram: AmyWerdine6

Story editor: Jim Buzinski