For skateboarder Leo Baker, the Olympic Games aren’t as important as living their life with authenticity.
That is why they made the decision to resign from the U.S. Women’s Olympic Skateboarding team, and continue transitioning as a transgender and non-binary athlete.
A seven-time X Games medalist, Baker was projected to be one of the bright lights representing the American delegation in Tokyo. But as they recently explained in a first-person account to Time Magazine, there were several reasons why competing in the Olympics had become incompatible with who they are.
Prior to coming out, Baker recalled having to create an artificial public persona when they competed, obsessing over questions like, “Who do I have to be today? What do I have to be like? Can I be Leo?”
But once they began transitioning and living life as their true self, that mental anguish disappeared.
Going to the Olympics and competing in women’s skateboarding would have represented a step back from what Baker described as their current state of “gender euphoria.” They made the decision that no professional achievement was worth putting themselves through that.
For example, Baker says a life-affirming operation like their recent top surgery wasn’t even something they could consider doing, due to Olympic regulations.
“I couldn’t be on hormones if I was going to compete in a women’s event, and it was hard to schedule the surgery because my competing meant I wouldn’t be able to have the time to recover,” they write.
It’s a remarkably introspective and mature decision that couldn’t have been easy. And Baker’s choice to resign speaks volumes about how vital the transitioning process is to them as a member of the transgender and nonbinary communities.
Furthermore, despite the worldwide prestige that comes with participating in the Olympics, Baker realized that competition was not at the heart of what they loved most about their sport.
“When I’m skating in competition, I feel like I need to do a certain thing,” they said. “Whereas if I showed up to the skate park, I would be thinking more creatively. I don’t care about winning. Sure, it feels super good to win in the moment, but I don’t need to do it again. I just want to skate.”
This also harkens back to what’s truly important to Baker’s worldview: the ability to live as their authentic self and the refusal to be boxed in by what roles the outside world might impose on them.
As they summed it up, “I couldn’t keep putting myself on hold.”
So they prioritized what made them truly happy over a shot at worldwide glory.
Usually, the most inspirational Olympics stories are from the athletes competing in the Games. But Leo Baker is a true inspiration, because they realized their identity and peace of mind are more important than a gold medal.
That might be the biggest win of their career.