On June 8, 2019, the love of my life, Emery Ford, became my wife.

It was the most perfect, beautiful wedding in Columbia, South Carolina, with all of our family and friends in attendance. Of all the attendees, 13 of them were particularly special — they were my former college teammates from my time playing Division I women’s tennis at Wofford College.

Jokingly renaming my wedding the “Tennis Team Reunion,” my teammates cried tears of joy as I walked down the aisle, took endless photos of me twirling in my dress, and carried the party into the night on the dance floor.

They were my No. 1 one fans that evening, cheering at just about every movement we made, and having them there to celebrate our love was an incredible feeling.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe just four years prior I was hiding my relationship with Emery from them, doubting whether they would still support me if they knew I was gay.

Lauren and Emery Ford, with Lauren’s college tennis teammates from Wofford.

It was spring semester of my freshman year at Wofford College, a small liberal arts college in South Carolina, and I sat across from my doubles partner in the dining hall, desperately wanting to reveal my secret. I tried to find the words, but on the verge of tears, my teammate resorted to playing a guessing game to figure out what I was hiding.

“You’re pregnant! That’s it. You’re pregnant.” She said definitively. I let out a nervous laugh. She couldn’t be further from the truth.

I finally managed to find the words, crying in one of the most conspicuous locations on campus, and told her about my girlfriend, Emery. I had cleverly told everyone Emery was a family friend who I very frequently visited. She was surprised, but overall very loving, urging me to come out to everyone else on the team.

Fast forward to spring break, a few months later. With the tennis team being one of the only teams required to remain on campus, we spent almost all day together.

We had just gotten done with practice, sweaty and exhausted, and were all sitting in the tennis center talking and relaxing. I suddenly got a text from my doubles partner, sitting right next to me, gently reminding me that this would be the perfect time to tell everyone.

And I did, but not without a few tears of course. I revealed that Emery, the “family friend,” who had been attending all of our matches for the past few months was actually my girlfriend. They all embraced me and showed nothing but love and support. It felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I was overjoyed that I could finally share that part of my life with them.

Lauren Ford, nee Reid, during her college tennis days at Wofford.

Soon after coming out, my tennis performance and grades improved drastically.

The heavy burden of being in the closet and hiding Emery was finally gone, and as a result, I was happier and more successful both on and off the court.

Throughout my college tennis career, Emery attended countless matches and was the top fan of the Wofford women’s tennis team. She became close friends with many of my teammates, and during my senior year she even worked with my coach to find the perfect time during our busy match schedule to propose to me.

This time, unlike my freshman year, my teammates and coach were the ones keeping secrets from me. They knew all the details of the proposal before it happened and were there to celebrate with me when I officially had a ring on my finger.

The rest is history.

I never could have imagined at 18 that Emery, my secret girlfriend, would go on to become my wife, and that my whole team would not only accept me, but would all attend my wedding.

Coming out to my tennis teammates in college was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I am incredibly grateful to have such wonderful people to support me and my new wife.

Lauren Ford, 23, is a 2018 graduate of Wofford College where she majored in Biology as a member of the women’s tennis team. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @lauren.ford517

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

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