Jumping gives me a sense of freedom like no other.
Getting up to top speed in just a few steps, blazing down the runway, then taking flight is an unparalleled sensation that has always filled me with bursts of power and control.
Prior to being out, I was really only getting these feelings when I was on the track training. Putting in the work day-in and day-out as well as at meets gave me a strong sense of autonomy and served as a great mechanism to cope with not being ready to come out.
No matter how hard a day was or how flustered I had been feeling from dealing with my sexuality, getting on the track helped me wipe that away and truly feel like myself. Track was ultimately the catalyst that instilled the necessary courage within me to first tell myself and others that I was gay.
The opportunity to tell my story through Outsports is one that I do not take lightly. Deeply reflecting on the past 13 years of my life (from the first moments of stepping on a track) has provided for me a realization of why I love my sport so much and why it helped me through the most difficult struggles I have faced.
The feeling of freedom is something that I longed for the majority of my adolescent life. From ages 10 to 18, I lived with a lot of fear and a sensation similar to being physically divided from others, isolated in “different-ness,” as I coined it during my childhood.
Now, at 23, and being in a position where I feel free and authentic, I can see with clarity why, as a young, gay athlete, I was drawn so emphatically to track and field from both a physical and emotional aspect.
My senior year in high school is when I finally grew enough as a runner to hit marks high enough to attract the attention of Division 1 schools. I had never felt more accomplished, prouder and more in control of my life.
I was consistently hitting new personal bests at meets and I was even sitting top 3 in Minnesota for the long jump. I was on top of the world and had never been happier.
I had decided to attend Colorado State University to continue jumping that next fall and I felt unstoppable. Everything came crashing down when I tore my hamstring anchoring the 4x200 meter relay at the final meet before my last high school state track and field competition.
Prior to this relay, I had qualified for state in long jump, triple jump and as the third leg in our 4x100 meter relay. I had the opportunity to go to state in those three events, but being hungry to accomplish as much as I could my senior season, I decided to risk it all for one more race, despite knowing that my hamstring was already mildly strained.
I remember hobbling off the track and into my dad’s arms, trying to hold it in, trying to remain strong and trying to convince myself that I wasn’t injured. Upon getting home and realizing I couldn’t bear any weight on my left leg, I burst into tears, not only because my high school career had ended prematurely, but because the one area of my life where I felt I was in control was destroyed.
The next few days after that, while some of the toughest in my life, I now see as a blessing in disguise because these were the days where I finally came to terms with my sexuality and began an amazing journey towards self-acceptance and growth.
I needed that control back in my life and I was at such a low point that I didn’t care where that control came from since it could no longer come from the track. I vividly remember one night shortly after my injury as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed. I was flustered from my physical therapy not going well that day and was completely consumed in anger at the world.
In a last ditch effort to not only calm myself, but to regain my autonomy, I slowly looked up at the mirror, stared at myself for a long while, and finally said out loud what I had been longing to say for so many years leading up to that point. I gazed into my eyes and quietly spoke the words “I am gay.”
It was a gut punch and I was inundated with a flood of different emotions. I was ecstatic, but scared; anxious, but calm and everything in between, but the two things I immediately recognized were: I was immediately relieved of all the anger I had been feeling, and I had regained the control I was no longer getting from being on the track.
Ultimately, it was a rush of liberation and one of the most impactful moments of my life. It was this moment of self-acceptance that was almost forced upon me by my injury that allowed me to finish out my senior year by starting to come out to my friends and family as well as enter Colorado State University as an openly gay young man.
The injury allowed me to confidently walk onto a new college campus and excel in everything I did. I was better able to enjoy track practice as it was no longer a coping mechanism, but something I could passionately enjoy.
I was able to openly and casually talk about my authentic self, something I had been jealous of others’ ability to do for so many years. It was through the combination of my newly accepted identity and my ability to continue running track at the collegiate level that I was able to meet and eventually date my first boyfriend, another runner on the CSU track and field team.
Ultimately, it was because of one small, seemingly silly, baby step — saying “I am gay” in the mirror — that I was able to finally able to accept myself and begin a much needed period of growth.
I couldn’t do it alone, however. My track and field team was filled with so many loving and accepting individuals and that allowed me to come into my own much quicker than I had anticipated.
I’ll never forget one special moment at a party celebrating our women’s team’s conference victory. A small group of upperclassmen caught me outside, gave me a few hugs, and explained how happy they were that my boyfriend and I felt comfortable enough around the team to be authentic and honest about our relationship. It was a moment that brought tears to my eyes and affirmed that I was on the right path and in the right place for that point in my life.
Had I not taken the crucial step of accepting myself, my life in college and my track and field career would not likely have been nearly as fun, transformative or fulfilling.
I want to leave any readers who are not yet out with this: when you’re ready, take the time to really reflect on your authentic self, envision the life you want to grow into and take that first step. Physically say the phrase “I am gay” to yourself.
While it may seem weird, it was that moment for me that completely rerouted my life for the better and it is my hope that anybody who is in a similar position is able to do so for themselves too. This step will empower you, give you the ability to start finding the community that will love you for who you are and help you grow.
It will give you the same sensation of freedom as busting out a personal best long jump and soaring through the air. I understand that it may be scary. The moment before I spoke those words I realized that there would be no going back, but to this day, it was the best decision I ever made for myself.
Dalten Fox, 23, is a 2019 graduate of Colorado State University where he competed for the men’s track and field Team in long and triple jump. Currently, he is pursuing his master’s degree in public administration at Boise State University where he is continuing his training and hopes to help coach at BSU in the spring. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (email@example.com).