I spent my childhood finding ways to make people laugh so they would never question why I dressed the way that I did. I was the loudest in the room, always making the funny jokes, but I never really felt comfortable with myself.

Growing up in Massachusetts I found comfort in playing sports. I was known as the athlete in town but it was always more than a sport for me. Looking back I believe I could be at peace with myself as long as I could be good at something, and that something was basketball.

My aunt was the first person to teach me how to dribble through my legs when I was 10 years old. From there, I played on travel teams, in rec leagues, and eventually AAU and high school. Basketball was my therapy growing up. Once I got into the gym I could distract myself from the outside world.

The first experience I had with being attracted to females was in seventh grade. I had bangs that I swished around, emulating the Justin Bieber flow, and could only be seen in basketball shorts and a baggy T-shirt. I surrounded myself with the “pretty girls’’ of the schools, attempting to fit in. Although I was nothing like them, I did my best to enjoy the same activities as them and like the same boys as them.

By the end of seventh grade, I began thinking about how I didn’t like any of these boys. I began to question just about everything I did. Was high-fiving teammates too much? Is this girl cute or am I insane? I had no idea how to control these thoughts or if they were normal. No one looked or dressed the way I did in middle school so I had no one to ask. Was playing footsie with a girl during math class flirting or just friendly? I had no idea.

Grace Dzindolet (25) and her Springfield teammates.

By the eighth grade I had found someone like me. She distracted me from the constant thoughts I had. I could talk to her about how at my bus stop I got shoved to the ground for dressing like a boy, I could be honest and I could kiss her without questioning my entire life.

I hid who I was in middle school and insisted that it would all go away in high school. I was going to be on the varsity basketball and softball team and everything was going to be OK. But it wasn’t. I got caught up in the drama and the hype of being an athlete in high school. I lost my way for a while and did not know where to turn.

Looking back on my childhood, all I needed to do was talk to someone. I never had a person I could turn until late into high school. I felt like my thoughts and feelings were against everything I had been taught.

I turned to alcohol, drugs and bad friends to get me through a time where I could not accept who I was. I was breaking records and winning games but I could not figure out how to tell myself that I was going to be OK.

In the middle of my basketball season sophomore year of high school, the same girl came back into my life. It was at that time that I decided to come out to myself, my friends, and my family.

I told my friends about how I had been feeling, how I had turned to sports for comfort, and how I had suppressed these feelings for years. I told my parents and my brother as well. My mother was the one who told her immediate family about my “lifestyle choice,” as my dad calls it. My father never addressed my sexuality with his side of the family until just a few months ago.

Like many other queer people, I still was never proud of who I was at first. I was out and knew I was accepted by my friends, but I still felt like there was some underlying discomfort talking about it with my peers. I was worried that some people would only see me as a lesbian or that someone might see my friendship as showing interest in them.

I loved high school while I was there. I had a supportive group of friends, I had a successful career in sports and I began to enjoy who I was. But there were still a lot of things that were unknown to me. I thought I had everything I needed, but I shortly learned that I could do so much more.

By the end of high school, I had been recruited by a few small Division III schools. Springfield College in Massachusetts offered the unique perspective that I was looking for. I could continue to play basketball while pursuing a career in Sport Management.

Once arriving at Springfield, I felt instantly comfortable. I had incredible teammates and a large group of friends that immediately accepted and encouraged me. Springfield College has a humanistic philosophy that calls for the education of the whole person — in spirit, mind, and body — for leadership in service to others.

Grace Dzindolet (white sweatshirt, front row) has become an activist for diversity and inclusion.

Our team dynamic is unique. We are together everyday practicing and playing for six months of the year. We learn a lot about each other during the season. We really are sisters, which is why we are known as “the posse” around campus. Being together for all those months, struggling through the pain of sprints and an endless season makes all of us stronger and closer. We all have the same passion for basketball.

Having such a close team made it easier for me to be open about who I was. My teammates have encouraged me to voice my opinions and help make change on campus. For the most part, we are all there to play basketball and have a good time. I don’t need to worry about how I look or the way I act because to them I am just a good basketball player.

Making plays on the court made it easier for me to adjust off the court. The first semester of my freshman year, I met a girl who hadn’t quite figured herself out either, but I instantly was drawn to her. She’s now my girlfriend of two years. She’s helped me see that you don’t have to sacrifice parts of yourself to be loved. I’m lucky to have a relationship with someone who loves me for exactly who I am.

I wouldn’t have called myself an activist when I first began my journey at Springfield. However, I have grown into a more socially aware and active part of the community, and will continue to educate myself.

Springfield College students have a reputation for being compassionate, genuine individuals. It is my hope that I make an impact on this campus by being the kind of person I needed when I was younger. If there’s one thing I wish I could have told myself back then, it’s that everyone deserves to love and be loved, without judgment or fear.

Grace Dzindolet, 21, is a junior on the women’s basketball team at Springfield College. She is striving for a B.S. in Sport Management and a minor in Business Administration. She is a part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee through the Springfield College Student Athlete Leadership Team, as well as the co-founder of a LGBTQIA+ Support group for student athletes. She can be reached by email ([email protected]) and Instagram (grace_dzindolet).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

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

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

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.