Coming out as gay has made me a better athlete.

Being happier and more comfortable with myself has allowed me to hit personal records on the North Carolina State cross country course and track teams, help bring home an ACC cross-country title and create amazing experiences that I only dreamed of.

It’s something the young me never would have dreamed of, especially since I felt like an oddball since I was 6.

I was born in Astana, Kazakhstan, in 2000 and was adopted and brought to the U.S. when I was just under a year old, growing up in Waxhaw, North Carolina. I didn’t know or understand why I felt different from the rest of my peers. I remember when I was in elementary school, I had a crush on a boy, but deep down I also felt attracted to girls and it just felt natural to me.

I first learned the word “gay” and what it meant when I was in middle school and I realized what I was feeling was something real. At the same time, I was confused because society said marriage was between a man and a woman and that made me question myself.

In high school, my friends would talk about boys and date boys and seeing that, I felt like I had to do the same to fit in. I tried to make myself like boys, but I couldn’t change the fact that I liked girls more. I didn’t know any other LGBTQ people at my school and felt like I was the only one.

By the end of high school, I fully accepted that I was gay but never got the courage to come out of the closet. Waxhaw was accepting of the LGBTQ community but I would hear homophobic jokes from my peers, teammates, friends and even from family members. After hearing things like that from people I felt closest to, I didn’t want to tell anyone fearing rejection.

Going into my freshman year of college at North Carolina State, I was still in the closet and was scared of what my teammates would think of me. During our preseason camp, my teammates had a pow-wow where we’d opened up and shared our stories, but I didn’t say anything.

For the first few months I was hiding who I was, but I wasn’t happy. I knew I needed to do something about it. In November 2018, I came out for the first time to a teammate I felt close too and in return she came out to me as bisexual.

It was the scariest yet most exciting thing I’ve ever done. I was afraid of what she would think, but a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to hide anymore and I could relate with someone like me.

Sarah LaTour leads the pack.

After I told my teammate, I got the courage to come out to more people. I eventually told the rest of my team and coaches and everyone was so supportive and helped me realize that my sexuality really is not a big deal.

Some people did ask questions like, “How did you know you were gay? What made you decide to be gay? Have you tried to be straight?” I sometimes wouldn’t know how to answer those questions because I was a little upset by their ignorance, but I would tell them my story hoping to open their minds.

I felt so happy and could finally be myself after many years of hiding. I told my family over winter break and they didn’t care either. My parents said that they’ve known since I was 6 and that was the biggest sigh of relief because those are the people I love the most. I then told more people and after each person I told, I got more comfortable and confident in myself.

N.C. State provides amazing support in their student athletes in athletics, academics and in all other areas in life to bring the best out of us. N.C. State is also great in supporting the LGBTQ community through clubs, organizations, events and counseling. I’m learning in my history class about the LGBTQ movement throughout American history and I’m doing my final project on it in hopes of educating my classmates on the journey of acceptance for the LGBTQ community.

If you’re reading this and are still in the closet, I promise you things will get better.

Be true to yourself and don’t worry about the homophobes because there are people and groups that will accept you.

You are perfect just the way you are and there’s no reason to hide yourself. Your sexuality really isn’t as big of a deal as you think. Some people might question but they will still love you and support you always.

Be true to yourself and don’t worry about the homophobes because there are people and groups that will accept you. I’m very thankful to have teammates, coaches, friends, family, and a university who have accepted me for who I am and continue to be supportive and showing love.

This is the first time I have shared my story to the world and I just want to say that I’m gay, proud and go Wolfpack!

Sarah LaTour, 19, is a freshman at NC State University, where she majors in sport management and is a member of the cross-country and track team. She can be reached at [email protected], Instagram (slatour457) and Twitter (slatour457)

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim ([email protected]).