When Hailey Danz competes in the triathlon at the Tokyo Paralympics on Aug. 28, she will be doing it as a proud gay athlete, no longer using the sport as an excuse to hide.
“For the first time in my life, I’m proud to be gay,” Danz wrote in an essay for Team USA in June, Pride Month.
Danz said that for years she used the intense training of being a triathlete as an excuse to deflect questions about why she didn’t have a boyfriend.
I started to realize I was gay in college, around the same time I began competing in triathlon. In retrospect, I can see that I probably threw myself into the sport so intensely as a way of avoiding my feelings.
Over time, triathlon became a convenient excuse for why I never had a boyfriend. “I don’t have the energy to date…training is too consuming.”
That worked for me for a while.
But after a decade, carrying the weight of a secret became exhausting. My mind was constantly preoccupied as it tried to keep track of the half-truths and lies of omission. I grew resentful, and my normally sunny disposition became jaded with an edge of irritability.
Danz’s rationale is very common for closeted athletes as people will accept the “I’m too busy training” excuse and not probe any deeper. But like many secrets, Danz found hers suffocating.
I’m not sure why I felt so much shame around my sexuality. I was raised by an accepting family in a fairly progressive community, but even still, growing up in a heteronormative world, I heard plenty of micro aggressions that sent the message that to be gay was to be less than.
Maybe I internalized those micro aggressions a little too much. Or maybe I was too overwhelmed trying to process the amputation of my leg as a result of bone cancer, and I couldn’t confront the idea that there was yet another thing that made me different.
When she finally found the courage to come out to her coach, his unconditional support and acceptance allowed her to be free and it culminated in a coming out post on Instagram in November, where she quoted a poem about how building dams internally block people from realizing their potential.
Here I am, sharing that I’m gay not because I think it’s something that requires a public announcement, but because I can’t afford to waste any more energy building dams. Because I have far more important things to do with all that energy.
Danz is one of 24 out LGBTQ Paralympians and it will be exciting to see her compete openly as a role model for other athletes who struggled like she did emotionally.