It took Dylan Delacruz eight attempts to qualify for the Ironman World Championship triathlon in October. So when he broke through, he made sure his community would be represented and celebrated.
Held annually in the Hawaiian coastal town of Kailua-Kona, the Ironman had been a goal for Delacruz since he began his career as a triathlete. After seven unsuccessful attempts to qualify, the eighth time proved to be a charm, though it was not without some perilous moments.
During a qualifier in Muncie, Ind., Delacruz crashed his bicycle during the cycling portion of the race and concluded the marathon by passing out after crossing the finish line.
“I didn’t know where I was or what happened,” he recalled.
Fortunately, when he found out the results the next day, he got the news that he was going to Hawaii.
“It was exciting when I got it but it’s kind of like a double-edged sword,” he admitted with tongue somewhat planted in cheek. “You’re excited that you did something you wanted to do for a while. On the other hand, you feel horrible and you’re like, ‘Why do I ever want to do that again?’”
Competing for 140.6 miles will do that to a person. But Delacruz knew he would persevere and compete again because the opportunity to run, swim, and bike an Ironman only comes around so often. Plus he wanted to make sure everybody saw him competing as an openly gay triathlete.
While he observed there aren’t many LGBTQ athletes in the triathlon, Delacruz still lauded it as “a very inclusive sport where a lot of people from different backgrounds can get together.” Every time he’s entered one, he has made sure to wear at least one piece of Pride rainbow paraphernalia.
Back in the mid-2010s when Delacruz started his racing career, he’d hear an occasional spectator heckling him or a fellow triathlete making a disparaging comment when they saw his Pride display.
“Honestly, [it] kind of fueled me,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I liked it, but it gave me more motivation.”
Fortunately, the occasional heckling died away and he’s heard much more positivity over the past few years.
Now when Delacruz wears the Pride rainbow, he does it hoping that it gives other aspiring LGBTQ triathletes inspiration to see someone like them competing at the highest level.
When he finished the Ironman, he took to Instagram to celebrate:
The triathlon wasn’t what Delacruz had trained for during most of his athletic life. Through college, baseball was his sport and he played three years of NCAA Division I at Central Connecticut State University from 2011 to 2013.
Delacruz was still in the closet during his high school and college baseball career.
“I would say the whole country sees Connecticut pretty liberally, but I guess [based on] who I was around, it wasn’t so much,” he mused.
But on a fateful trip to Arizona to compete in a collegiate summer league, he met his current partner, Dave. Over the next two years, despite remaining in the closet after returning to campus, Delacruz kept making weekend trips to Arizona to spend time with him.
Then when Dave would travel to Connecticut to see Delacruz play, his resemblance to a well-known ESPN reporter caused teammates to think that the national media was in attendance. It turned out he was there to see someone on the team. But little did they know.
Eventually the visits became frequent enough that Delacruz realized he wanted to live more openly, so he began coming out to his family and letting them know the truth of his relationship. But he never revealed who he was to his teammates while he was playing at CCSU.
A fine baseball player with an admirable career .330/.369/.480 career slashline, Delacruz attracted the attention of a few MLB scouts who floated the possibility of drafting him in the later rounds. However, now that he was becoming comfortable with who he was as a gay man, Delacruz no longer saw pro baseball as a path he wanted to pursue to the exclusion of all else.
“I’m pretty optimistic, but I’m also realistic,” he admitted. “I was decent but I knew it would’ve been maybe a year, maybe two years, and I probably would’ve got cut. And I wasn’t willing to stay in the closet anymore. And then the other side was I’m not good enough to really make an impact being a gay baseball player. I think you have to be [at] a certain level to make the accepting part [happen].”
So after his junior year, Delacruz moved to Arizona to live with Dave and the two have been together ever since.
In the car on the drive from Connecticut to Arizona, Delacruz decided to call his former baseball teammates and come out to them. He remembered that some took it well while others were a bit more apprehensive — but the friends who stuck with him became even closer.
Then on his first visit back to campus after the move, Delacruz’s best friend invited him to hang out at his apartment. When he opened the door, his former teammates jumped out and yelled “Surprise!” It was their way of showing him that they supported who he was and communicating how much they missed him.
“I think when you come out, you always expect the worst,” he said. “Honestly, for me, [the surprise] was a really high point in my life. They were like, ‘Yeah, we don’t care. Do whatever you gotta do. We just missed you and we wish you were here.’”
Since then, Delacruz has had several other high points, including building a long-term relationship. Now you can add completing the Ironman World Championship to that list.
You can follow Dylan Delacruz on Instagram.