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Gay college cheerleading champion finds work helping hospitals during the pandemic

Harrison Wilkerson found a comfort zone as an NC State cheerleader. Since graduation, he’s found work that helps make the waiting room process easier.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 01 East Carolina at NC State
Harrison Wilkerson showing the spirit at a 2018 NC State football game.
Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With this story, Outsports is launching a new feature, Out in the World: diving into our deep archive of Coming Out stories and updating the stories of out athletes, coaches and other sports personnel who continue to prove, everyday, that Courage Is Contagious.

Most recent college graduates are happy to land any rent-paying job shortly after joining the real world. Harrison Wilkerson is no exception.

After earning his diploma from North Carolina State University last year and finishing his career with the Wolfpack cheerleading team, Wilkerson decided to remain in Raleigh and found work with Phreesia, a medical software firm dedicated to digitizing and expediting the hospital waiting room process.

Then suddenly, in the context of 2020, that kind of work took on a whole new level of importance. As Wilkerson explained, “Everyone’s seeing now more than ever the need to keep people out of the waiting room and eliminate sharing pens and pencils and clipboards for registration. So we’re doing that all digitally now.”

It’s the latest step in a journey that’s seen Wilkerson use his life experiences to help others along the way. Back in 2015, he shared the story of his battle with depression while coming out in a rural North Carolina high school with Outsports as a way to reach out to others going through similar experiences and tell them “You are not alone.”

A little over two years later, he posted an update about finding himself in a happier and more accepting place after enrolling at NC State and finding a home on the cheerleading squad.

Harrison Wilkerson supporting his fellow Wolfpack cheerleaders.
Instagram: @harrison_wilkerson

His college years proved to be fulfilling ones, culminating with Wilkerson being named team captain. The title took him a bit by surprise. “Having only cheered one year before, I was very honored that my teammates chose me for that position,” he admitted. “I’ve always kind of found myself in leadership positions and this was one that I really cherished, especially being in my senior year. The period on a career that I never imagined myself being in.”

Although he only took part in the program for two years, Wilkerson had a full career’s worth of memorable moments, helping win a National Cheerleaders Association championship in 2018 and just missing a repeat performance the next year.

He called the 2018 title “something I never imagined possible. It was my first cheerleading season, my first cheerleading competition, and then to come out on top out of some amazing schools was a huge honor.”

Since graduating, Wilkerson has stayed active, taking part in his company’s LGBTQ group to provide help in the Raleigh community and meeting several best friends among his gay co-workers.

Remembering his harrowing high school experience from the perspective of his current situation, Wilkerson reflected:

“Back then, I was a lot more worried about what people thought of me and there was a lot more pressure to fit in and be this ideal that I thought people had of me. And I’ve learned now as I’ve grown up that your ideal is what you’ve created. I like to think I’ve created my ideal self and this is who I am and this is who I’m proud to be. And I don’t really want to fit anyone else’s mold because it’s kind of boring.”

For Wilkerson, it was quite a journey to self-acceptance. But that journey has led him to a good place. And in 2020, that’s really saying something.

Outsports welcomes suggestions for our Out In the World series. Who would you like to hear from again? Also, please reach out if you yourself would like to update us on what you’ve been doing since coming out.

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

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

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.