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From near tragedy, St. Bonaventure runner thrives after coming out

Dahron Wells struggled with his sexuality and it nearly cost him his life. But he’s now out and proud and helping other athletes reach their potential.

Dahron Wells ran for St. Bonaventure where he is now a coach.

After I came out on social media, I was repeatedly asked, “When did you know?” As if there was a specific date I went to the doctor’s or there was something similar to the Hogwarts sorting hat and I found out my sexuality.

Looking back on it, I guess I always knew I was bisexual. However, knowing it wasn’t the issue, accepting it was.

My favorite show when I was younger was “Charmed”, a series based on the lives of three sisters who are witches. I vividly remember being jealous when the impending relationship between Phoebe and Coop, played by Alyssa Milano and Victor Webster, was exposed.

At that time, I couldn’t tell if I was more upset by the fact that Alyssa was off the market or that Victor was and it confused me as to why I felt the latter. I wasn’t confused because I didn’t understand what I was feeling, I was confused because I knew just what it was and I was unsure how to tell someone. My mom was obsessed with “Will & Grace” and sometimes I would watch it with her, so I had some idea what being gay was.

Despite the feelings I had at 9 years old, I never brought it up to anyone until nine years later when I came home for a break during my first year of college at St. Bonaventure University. During this break I reconnected with an old friend.

In high school we were pretty close and regularly kept in contact while we were away at our respective colleges. We picked back up right where we left off, but there was something about the way we spoke to each other and energy when we hung out that was different than it was in high school. It didn’t take long to figure out that there was something more happening, something romantic.

I didn’t tell anyone about what I was feeling at first. That is until the break came to an end and we kissed goodbye. There were so many conflicting emotions immediately after — it felt right, it felt wrong, I was happy and terrified. I had flashbacks to watching that episode of Charmed and thought “maybe I could date a guy.” This revelation started me on my long, painful journey of accepting who I was.

The first person I told about this encounter and consequentially coming out to was one of my older cousins. I drove to her apartment, sat in her kitchen, told her every detail and we just cried. I was crying because I was afraid if I told everyone I’d lose all of the people closest to me, and she cried because she couldn’t fathom how I could ever question the love those around me had for me. I wish I trusted her judgment then and just came out to my family, instead of punishing myself for another three years with self-harm and self-hatred.

Not only was I adjusting to being four hours away from home surrounded by new people at St. Bonaventure University in New York state. I was just getting to know my teammates after being asked to join the university’s inaugural outdoor track team.

Like other Division I sports teams, we spent every day together from breakfast right after our morning weight room session to dinner after our nightly speed and agility session. We were starting to bond and I didn’t want any of that to change. Being on an athletic team has always been one of my biggest joys. Especially at Bonaventure, having such great people and talented athletes brought me so much happiness.

Despite how happy I was to be on the team, I was struggling immensely on the inside.

Dahron Wells with his teammates.

My struggles continued into my junior year when I was rooming with my best friend who was also on the team and couldn’t hide anything even if I wanted to. Eventually, I came out to him and all he was worried about was me finding a good person, male or female, and them treating me right. For him to only be worried about me finding someone to treat me right, meant everything to me.

Instead of facing that fear, I began self-harm by cutting myself. Inevitably, it all came to a head when I ended up in the hospital after trying to take my own life during the first semester of senior year. Considering that I seemed happier than ever, my friends and family were shocked when they got the news.

During my time in the hospital, I had a conversation in my room with one of the nurse-aides that lasted over an hour. We talked about what brought me there, the anxiety, the depression, the fear of accepting who I was. There was something about what she said to me that just clicked in that moment.

I realized that my life was worth it and anyone who didn’t support me or love me for me, was not. Even though I came to this conclusion and finally decided to come out to some of my family, I didn’t have the courage to come out publicly or even to most of my family members.

After graduation and a lot of growth, I decided to come out publicly with posts on Facebook and Twitter. The response was incredible. There was so much love and support from former teammates, fellow Bonaventure alumni, friends, family and individuals I had common friends with.

It was slightly overwhelming but was everything I could have wanted and then some. There are two moments that happened after I came out that I will always cherish. The first being the phone call I got from my former coach, Robert MacFarlane, asking me to come to his office to “ask me something important.”

As I was walking down the hall of the Reilly Center, the athletic department headquarters, towards my coach’s office, I didn’t know what I was going to be walking into. As soon as I walked in he, blurted out: “Do you want to be a graduate assistant coach?”

I was shocked because that is not what I expected, I said: “Wow. Of course!” He responded with: “Oh and what was that I saw on the Twitter?” Acting as if I didn’t know what he was talking about, I asked for clarification.

He gave me this look that said, “don’t play games,” a look I grew very familiar with in my four years running for him. I laughed and just nodded. All he said was, “if you’re going to be a coach, even if you’re a graduate student, you can’t date anyone on the team — guys or girls,” and gave me a hug.

That may seem like a strange thing to appreciate for those who don’t know Coach Mac, but what it meant to me was that my sexuality changed nothing. If anything he was even more proud of me than he was before and wanted me to continue being in a leadership position on the team.

Dahron Wells with head cross-country and track coach Robert MacFarlane.
@GoBonnies

The second moment that I will always be grateful for was the response from my former teammates. Not just the teammates I spent four years with, but those who were seniors when I first joined the team my freshman year and even Bonnies cross-country alumni who I had never run with. Everyone was beyond supportive and it really reaffirmed my decision to be out, loud and proud.

Fast-forwarding to this very moment, typing these words, I have never felt better.

I am the happiest I have been in years, my relationships with my friends and family are better than they have ever been, but most importantly my self-image is at an all-time high. I am so grateful for the people in my life that support me, love me and encourage me to be my most authentic self. Now, for the first time since I had that realization when I was 9, I’m comfortable with me. I am excited for what the future holds, whether that be with a man or a woman.

Why was it so important to come out? Why was it such a big deal to me when I was presented the chance to write this? It’s important to let generations after me know that not only is it OK to be who you are, it’s the only way.

You can be a three-year captain of a Division 1 team, you can become a part of the coaching staff for that team and you can also proudly be LGBTQ+ while doing so. For those who are afraid, for those who are thinking of harming themselves because they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, let me be walking proof that it’s there.

You deserve to be yourself and anyone who doesn’t understand isn’t worth you and yes, that goes for family members too. Be proud. BE YOU.

Dahron Wells, 22, graduated from St. Bonaventure University in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He served as a three-year captain of the men’s cross-country and track teams, treasurer for the Student Government Association and Student Ambassador. He is employed by his alma mater as an admissions counselor in the Office of Admissions while pursuing his Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He can be reached via email (wellsde15@bonaventure.edu), Twitter (@D_Wells18) or Instragram (@Dwells_18).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

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