They say coming out is a journey and mine includes two formative experiences the past two years that allowed me to be comfortable with my sexual identity.

It was 2017 and I was visiting my friends in Minneapolis for Pride weekend. It was my first Pride I had attended and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

It was shortly after my decision to transfer for my senior year from Winona State to a bigger school and I was trying to decide between UW-Madison or the University of Minnesota. It was an eye-opening weekend for me. I met Brad Neumann and Justin Rabon, two gay Minnesota track athletes and boyfriends, and they heavily influenced my decision to transfer to the U of M after sharing their experience of being out athletes.

I met new friends and fell in love with University of Minnesota campus. And for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who were allies or part of the LGBTQ community and I felt like I belonged. After that weekend, I made the life-altering decision to commit to University of Minnesota.

Then, last summer, I was visiting my family. My brother and I hadn’t seen each other in months and we decided to catch up. I decided to ask him about his love life, asking him if he was dating anyone in college.

He blushed and seemed embarrassed and it registered with me to ask a different question. So instead, I asked him if he had a boyfriend. He then officially came out to me and told me he had been dating a boy for months and was scared to tell anyone. I immediately got emotional because I knew the feeling all too well, and told him that I was bisexual. It was the first time I said the words out loud.

I had a normal upbringing in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison, with my parents and brother. I was adopted after birth, with my parents being white and my biracial brother being adopted from a different family. My parents knew I was going to be tall and put me in sports starting when I was 3.

Growing up, I was used to being the only black kid. In school, I was quiet, but had many friends. I worked hard, got good grades and did well in sports. In high school, I played volleyball, basketball and did track and field, making the varsity team for 11 of my 12 sports seasons.

Growing up, my family didn’t have much. My parents always worked multiple jobs in order for me to be able to do the things such as AAU basketball tournaments and club league volleyball in the summers. Yet they still came to nearly all of my sporting events. I would not be where I am today without them or my faith. Every week, my family and I would attend church. I loved the feeling of leaving church, feeling as if my relationship with God had grown. I used my faith in Christ to fuel my performance in sports.

As I started looking into colleges my junior year of high school, I knew I wanted to be a college athlete. My senior year of high school, I transitioned from being primarily a sprinter in track and field to only throwing shot put after pulling my hamstring multiple times throughout my high school year. I was an average thrower, but ended my high school career at the Wisconsin state meet by placing third in the shot put, which was way higher than I was supposed to get.

I have always confidently known that I was attracted to men, but I began noticing my attraction to women in high school.

I have always confidently known that I was attracted to men, but I began noticing my attraction to women in high school. I would have random crushes on girls every once in a while. I wasn’t sure if the feelings were normal or not, because I’d have thoughts more often about boys. I turned my focus to being a college athlete.

My freshman year at Winona State, I learned an event I had never even heard of until college: weight throw. During fall training, I struggled with the technique but when meets began in the spring semester, it became apparent that I was excelling more than I could have ever imagined.

At the end of my freshman year I won nationals, which at that point was the height of my athletic career. Little did I know that as my track and field career would continue to flourish, my personal life would begin to crumble.

It was during my sophomore year that I began seeing a girl in secret. I kept my relationship with her hidden because I was still figuring out things with my sexuality and didn’t want to make a big deal about it until I knew for sure.

We continued to see each other in secret for about eight months, and it confirmed my suspicions that I was bisexual. During sophomore year I continued to succeed in track and field — breaking the Division II record for the weight throw and appearing on the Bowerman Watch list, but I had never felt more confused about my identity.

As it became clear that I was bisexual, I began to distance myself from religion.

As it became clear that I was bisexual, I began to distance myself from religion. I didn’t like who I was and was terrified that I would be judged or misunderstood. The feeling of being out of place was familiar to me because of always being one of the only African Americans surrounded by white people, and I was scared to add bisexuality to my intersectionality. Despite all these feelings, I ended my sophomore year on a high note and won indoor nationals again.

My junior year was the toughest year of my life. I struggled heavily with depression and still was not ready to fully come to terms with my sexuality. There was no one on my team who was out, and I continued kept my feelings suppressed.

I turned away from my faith and was in a very dark place, feeling more alone than ever. After having the worst year of my collegiate career, and with my coach taking a job at a different university, I decided I needed a change. I decided I wanted to transfer to a Division I school the summer before my senior year.

After meeting Brad and Justin and hearing about their positive experiences at the University of Minnesota, I was sold.

During my first year at Minnesota, I quickly noticed that it was a different team culture than I had been part of before. The lighthearted environment made it easier for me to open up and I quickly became close to my teammates and won my first Division I title that year.

I made a lot of new friends, most of who were gay men, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was surrounded by people who had an understanding about part of who I am. It was easy for me to come out to them and know there would be no judgment.

For me, coming out to my teammates was much harder. Even though there were openly gay people on the team, I had become close to my teammates and didn’t want to alienate myself from the team. It wasn’t until this past year I started coming out to more people.

Advocating for the LGBTQ community made me more comfortable with my own sexuality.

During this past fall, a teammate asked me if I wanted to help him start an LGBTQ athletes club. It was the same time that I was beginning to tell my close friends that I was bisexual, so I took it as a sign and an opportunity. We spent fall semester planning for the start of the club, and I realized how passionate I was about advocating for the LGBTQ community and made me more comfortable with my own sexuality.

It’s still an ongoing process, and I still find myself coming out to people. I was always afraid that by telling people that they would assume the typical stereotypical things about bisexual people — that they’re split 50/50 for each gender; or that it’s just a college phase; or if I’m dating of the same gender I’m gay, whereas if I’m dating someone of the opposite gender at that time I’m straight.

Having a supportive community and working on starting the LGBTQ club at my school has opened my eyes a lot. God made us in His image and I can be confident in who I am. Since coming out, my faith and my performance have never been stronger. For the first time, I feel like I’m being completely and authentically me.

In May I’ll graduate with my BA in Psychology. In my last semester of school, although I’m out of indoor eligibility, my goal is to break the world record for the women’s weight throw. After I graduate, I want to try to continue to try for the Olympics for the hammer throw, and use my degree to continue to advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Kaitlyn Long, 22, will graduate from the University of Minnesota in May with a degree in Psychology. She is a member of the women’s track and field team. She has won two Division II and one Division I title in weight throw, is a three-time All America and four-time All Conference, among other achievements. She can be reached at kaitlynlong34 (Instagram and Twitter) or Kaitlyn Long (Facebook).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski