I grew up in a very small town in west central Missouri. My high school had only about 300 students and the only thing to do in town was get involved with extracurricular activities.
I was my class president, a part of our school’s concert and show choir, and was a member of the basketball and track teams.
When it came to running, I was always very fortunate. It was one of the only things I was confident in for a really long time. However, since a lot of my friendships were made from sports, I always felt like the only reason people liked me was because I was such a huge contributor on the track.
I struggled with coming to terms with my sexuality and nothing would convince me that anyone at my school would accept me if I came out to them. So, I kept quiet and kept running.
During my senior year, I had narrowed it down to two schools to continue my academic and track-and-field careers. One of them was the University of Central Missouri. I grew up about 15 minutes from campus, so it was basically like living at home.
I knew for certain that I didn’t want to have to hide anything anymore. I was tired of having to always pay attention to how I walked, how I would articulate my words, facial expressions and gestures. For some reason I thought it would affect my recruiting process if I didn’t keep up my act.
I met with one of the assistant coaches at UCM, Kurtis Brondyke, and he suggested I hang out with some of the athletes already on the team.
“Great. Sure!” I thought to myself, “I’ve had to hide from my peers in high school, now I have to keep up the same rouse with adults in college.”
I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me earlier. I didn’t want to have to hide for another four years, but I always felt like the only way to gain acceptance from anybody was to be a key member of the team. It was my main motivation.
Finding another gay athlete on the team
When I got to hang out with the other team members, I was introduced to one of the team’s hurdlers, Drew Bodicky. At the time, Drew was a junior and one of the better hurdlers on the team. Later that night I found out that Drew was actually gay.
I hadn’t seen or really even heard of gay people in sports before. A gay person who’s in sports, is good, and people treat him with the same respect as anybody else on the team?
Without hesitation, I had made my official decision to join the Central Missouri track-and-field team. That night when I got back home, I sat in my room and cried. I had finally found a place where I could try to be myself.
That spring I signed with UCM and started their summer workouts in June. Ever since I met Drew that night, I wanted to come out and tell him that I was gay. One day I woke up to go to weights and told myself that “Today is the day” to come out to Drew. Since he was gay too, I knew he would accept me, but I was still very nervous. I had never been “the new guy” before, so I was already nervous about that plus wanting to tell Drew made everything a disaster that day.
Finally saying ‘I’m gay’
My chest felt heavy the entire weight session. When should I do it? How do I approach him about it? Would he even care? All of this took me until the very end of weights and everyone packed up to leave. I decided that maybe I should wait longer to tell him because there was no way I could get him alone to talk to him.
Little did I know, I parked right next to him. So, I regained the courage to talk to him.
“Uh, Drew, Can I talk to you real fast?”
“Sure what’s up?”
I knew it was a simple task to say “I’m gay,” especially to another gay person, but I couldn’t get myself to say it. Instead I said, “How did you come out to your parents, because I don’t know what to do.”
I couldn’t tell if he was surprised, or if he had had a feeling. Either way, he was very happy that I came to him asking for advice. He shared his coming out story with me and introduced me to Outsports. With that, he gave me his contact information in case I ever needed to talk to him again.
That fall, I went through most of the preseason only out to Drew and some of his close friends who were also at summer weights. I was very afraid of the other freshmen. If I didn’t connect with them, who would I hang out with? These are the people I’d compete with during my time on the team. I didn’t want to have to be “half way out,” so I decided to tell my closest friends on the team.
Coming out to the team
We were hanging out in my friend Derek’s room one night and Derek’s roommate asked me something ridiculously wild about girls. I took that as my chance to come out to them.
“What do you mean? Why not?”
“Ah. Actually, I’m gay.”
It was really quiet for only a short moment in the room which was broken with, “Oh ok.”
Relief. Sort of.
I still felt like I had to impress them on the track in order for them to fully accept me. Long story short, my first indoor season did not go as well as I hoped. However, the team still accepted me and didn’t treat me any differently. I was their teammate and they were there to support me.
That outdoor season, I made it onto the 4x100 team and we ended up getting first place at the Drake Relays for Division II and took third place at conference. I really feel like I have finally learned that people will still support me regardless of my sexuality and will continue to love me even when my talents don’t let me perform to my best level.
By sharing my story, I hope someone out there can learn that your talents don’t determine your worth. People will be there for you on and off of the track, court, mat, or field.
Andre Williams, 20, is a sophomore at the University of Central Missouri where he is majoring in vocal music education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram at @dre.willaye.
Story editor: Cyd Zeigler