Till Martini fell into rowing. As a young high schooler, a few of his classmates were already competing at the national level, and needed a coxswain. Since Martini fit the prototype (light and small), they asked if he was interested in joining their team.

With Martini on board, It didn’t take long for the team to experience great success. They won silver at the 2014 national championships in Germany, and the victories kept coming. Martini joined Germany’s U-19 national club in 2018, and for the last four years, he’s coxed for the U-23 national team.

Over that span, he’s won multiple national championships, the European championship and bronze at the world championships. Not bad for somebody who was coaxed into coxswaining.

“The early success was probably the reason I stuck with rowing,” Martini told Outsports. “For the future, I’m definitely aiming to make it to the Olympics itself.”

That goal is within Martini’s reach. As the second cox for Germany’s elite men’s rowing team, he’ll likely be on the sidelines for Paris 2024. But the 2028 Games in Los Angeles are in his sights.

And the best part is, Martini is pursuing his athletic passion as his true self.

He was 18 years old when he first realized he was gay. At that point, he was living in Dortmund (the eighth-largest city in Germany) and training with his teammates every day. When the conversation turned to girls, Martini used to clam up, and his mind would start racing.

Then he realized: if he’s going to compete with his teammates at the highest level, he has to be honest with them. It’s the only way they’ll fully trust each other.

“The first few times when somebody asked about a girlfriend or something so many thoughts flashed through my mind: ‘How would they react if I say that I’m into guys? Does it change anything between us?,’” said Martini. “I suddenly felt nervous around my friends and needed a second to decide how to answer, but I quickly came to the realization that it doesn’t get any easier in the long-term if I decide to hide. I’m happy to talk about now and never really made it a secret. I thought, ‘How should we trust each other in a race if i don’t be honest about this big part of my life?’”

While Martini says some of his teammates were surprised at first, they’ve offered him nothing but support, and his sexuality isn’t an issue. The proof: he was elected to a leadership position as one of the club’s athlete-representatives.

“In the end, they just don’t care if I’m gay or straight,” he said.

Martini worried those who selected the national team would feel differently, however. There aren’t many out gay rowers competing at elite international levels.

The one exception is Olympic rower Robbie Manson, who publicly came out on Outsports in 2014.

Now Martini can add his name to the small list. His success since coming out showed him his fears were for naught.

“The concerns I had that being out could have consequences on my nominations for the national team, reflecting on it now, they were irrational and totally unjustified,” he said.

But even if coming out did impact Martini, who’s also attending medical school, he says he wouldn’t regret it.

Hiding his life for the sake of rowing, even at the Olympic level, wouldn’t be worth it.

“Even if [my fears] were justified, I probably wouldn’t have kept my sexuality a secret,” he said. “Yes, being out can have negative effects sometimes, and it probably will have for the foreseeable future, but hiding myself isn’t a price I’m willing to pay for that.”

You can follow Till Martini on Instagram.