In 2015, I had a good competitive swim season and realized my dream of competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics might come true. I graduated high school and decided to train in Vancouver and follow my dream of competing at the Olympics. I was willing to put everything on the line, but something was holding me back. It was the secret I was keeping — that I was gay.

I trained alongside 11 other teammates in Vancouver and we all shared the same goal: to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. It was an interesting dynamic because we all trained together, but we were competing individually. Sharing the same goal allowed us to develop unique relationships and form a tight-knit family.

Watching my teammates work themselves to the bone for a goal that was so important to them, and one that I could relate to, allowed us all to connect in a way like no other. Seeing these swimming icons placing and medaling at world championships and push themselves to the absolute limit to achieve their biggest goals in life exposed a level of vulnerability that allowed us to forge strong, deep-rooted bonds.

Creating these intimate bonds with my teammates was amazing, but it also made me feel guilty at the same time. They were exposing their most raw essence in the pool every day, but I would come to the pool emotionally guarded and not do the same.

Following every interaction with my teammates, I would feel a bit sad because they weren’t getting to know the real me, just some surface-level shell I fabricated.

Markus Thormeyer of Canada poses with his gold medal along with silver medalist Christopher Reid of South Africa, right, and bronze medalist Jacob Pebley of the USA after winning the 100-meter backstroke at the 2019 Toyota U.S. Open Championships in Atlanta in December.

When I first moved to this training group in September 2015, I wanted to keep it a secret that I was gay for multiple reasons. I was scared they wouldn’t accept me. I did not want to create drama in the training group, I didn’t know how they would react. I was scared of negative responses.

Would me coming out change the dynamic of the training group and compromise me and my teammates chances of making the 2016 Olympics? I didn’t want to take that chance.

Would me coming out change the dynamic of the training group and compromise me and my teammates chances of making the 2016 Olympics? I didn’t want to take that chance, so I kept my walls up and generally avoided talks about sexuality and dating.

I thought it would be easy for me to keep my sexuality a secret with my new training group, at least until the Olympic qualifications in April 2016. I was wrong. I found out pretty fast how hard it was going to be for me to keep not to come out to my teammates. The following months in the closet were difficult and keeping my sexuality a secret got progressively harder every day.

Hiding my sexuality became a huge distraction to my training and was starting to affect the relationships with my teammates too. Some days I dreaded going to the pool in fear that my sexuality would be exposed. I’d show up late and leave early to social gatherings and workouts. Some days it would even spiral and I would question why I was swimming and be scared of my own goals.

Having to deal with that was awful. Every day felt like a threat and not an opportunity.

This mentality was not healthy and paired with the combined pressure of wanting to qualify for the Olympics became too much. I knew coming out would possibly solve these issues, but I was still scared because I didn’t know what would happen. I feared the unknown.

Markus Thormeyer is training and competing to earn a spot on Canada’s 2020 Olympic swim team.

Eventually the stresses of hiding who I was built up so much at the end of one day I just broke down.

I always wanted them to know I was gay, but now I was ready for them to know.

I felt helpless on my bedroom floor, but I also knew that I couldn’t keep living like this. At this point I knew that I would either burn out and or take control of my destiny. I decided to take control of my destiny and come out to my teammates. I always wanted them to know I was gay, but now I was ready for them to know.

I’m not a dramatic person, so I didn’t want to make a big scene when I was coming out, I just wanted it to happen organically in normal conversation. One day, we were all hanging out and the topic of relationships came up in conversation. This was my moment. I casually said that I had never been on a date with a guy before and I was kind of scared of it. That I’d probably be a nervous wreck and ruin it.

Then, without a sliver of judgment or skipping a beat, my friends told me that I’d probably be fine on a date as long as I just had a good time and just was comfortable being myself.

Knowing that I had such amazing teammates supporting me so strongly regardless of my sexual orientation was one of the best feelings in the world.

With this amazing group of people, I finally felt at ease and at home. No one made a scene, and everyone accepted me for who I was. I was treated the same way as before I came out and I felt great about it. There was no drama and it was exactly what I wanted.

After letting my walls down and coming out to the team, I felt like I could finally be me. It felt like a literal weight was lifted off my shoulders. I came to the pool with my head up and smile on my face. There were no distractions.

I could go to workout and only focus on training instead of worrying about keeping up an exhausting act that wasn’t me. Also knowing that my training group accepted me for who I am and will support me no matter what helped me feel safe and loved every day.

After coming out to his teammates as gay in 2016, Markus Thormeyer swam better than before and qualified for the Rio Olympics.

Feeling safe in my training environment and having no distractions allowed me to push myself to new limits in the pool. My training got better, I got stronger and my technique got sharper. Not only that, but I also broke down some walls between me and my teammates and our relationships flourished. Training with them fostered relationships that will last a lifetime.

When the Olympic trials came around, I felt more ready than ever and had a new sense of confidence. I put my best foot forward and had the best competition of my life, qualifying for the Summer Olympic Games in 2016 alongside six of my teammates.

The Olympics were a truly amazing experience and being able to compete and celebrate them as an openly gay athlete made it all the more enjoyable. I was able to represent the Maple Leaf in Brazil as the real Markus and not some surface-level shell version.

Markus Thormeyer is part of Team Canada’s OneTeam, which promotes LGBT+ inclusion in sport.

Coming out to the team taught me to be comfortable in my own skin regardless of being different or gay. It gave me the confidence in the pool, which eventually spread to every other part of my life.

Since then I’ve been able to grow this newfound confidence in the pool, winning a medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and making a final at the FINA World Swimming Championships in 2019.

I’ve also decided to join Team Canada’s OneTeam, which promotes LGBT+ inclusion in sport, because I want to share my story and be able to spread the message that it’s OK to be gay. Life is much better when you fully embrace you for who you are.

Markus Thormeyer, 22, was a member of the 2016 Canadian Olympic swim team on the 4×100 freestyle relay team and is a student-athlete. In January, he won the gold in the 200-meter backstroke and bronze in the 100-meter backstroke in the FINA Champions Swim Series in China. He hopes to use these races in preparing for the Canadian Olympic trials this spring as he seeks a spot on the team for the Tokyo Olympics. He lives in Vancouver studying Environmental Science at the University of British Columbia. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @lilmarquenis.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

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