For most of his athletic life, Aidan Hyman has been representing the LGBTQ community in endurance races, marathons and triathlons.
After repeatedly proving his athleticism and perseverance close to sea level, Hyman will be taking on a new challenge next month. On June 17, he’ll join a mountaineering expedition to Pakistan with the goal of ascending to the base camp of K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth.
Two days into the expedition, he’ll also be turning 20. This means that once he reaches his goal, Hyman will become the youngest known queer mountain climber to reach K2 base camp, which has an elevation of 16,896 feet.
“Daunting” barely begins to describe the task in front of him. And a big part of the reason Hyman took it on is because he saw a void in LGBTQ representation in that environment.
“As I was getting into extreme sports, I didn’t see many queer athletes and I was intimidated by that,” he said. “It’s just so intense. You want to be supported by your teammates, and to not have representation was always kind of a bummer for me.”
While competing in marathons and triathlons since age 15, Hyman began noticing that when he established his visibility as an out queer athlete, it would inspire others to follow in his path. Gestures like running the Boston Marathon carrying a Pride flag helped others each out and let him know he was encouraging them to pursue their own sports goals.
Courage is contagious, as Outsports’ motto says.
That’s the kind of response Hyman is hoping to get when he sets out an his K2 expedition.
“One of my biggest motivations is just knowing that my little endeavors are creating a space for other queer athletes to know that they have a place in the outdoors and extreme sports,” he asserted.
He’ll be following in the footsteps of LGBTQ climbers like Cason Crane, who completed a project to ascend to the highest peak on all seven continents in 2013 in order to raise money and awareness for the Trevor Project.
Hyman first became aware of this opportunity after a teammate with the Los Angeles Marathon ambassadors introduced him to climber Lucy Westlake, the youngest American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. She told Hyman about a program where she took college athletes with relevant climbing experience on a K2 base camp expedition, and he was immediately on board.
A native of Los Angeles and a current student at UC Davis in Northern California, many of Hyman’s outdoor expeditions have taken place in the mountain ranges surrounding his places of residence. In the lead-up to the K2 expedition, he’s undergone additional specialized training focused on extreme altitude survival methods, backpack load management, and rope techniques.
As a queer athlete, Hyman never had an official coming out moment but noted that his senior year of high school was when he felt comfortable introducing significant others to his friends.
Initially nervous about expressing his true self around teammates, he began noticing acceptance and support once he started bringing Pride flags to events.
When he ran the Boston Marathon holding a rainbow flag, Hyman saw thousands of spectators cheering him for who he was. That moment underscored his senses of identity and purpose as a queer athlete.
“It was just me,” he reflected. “I felt like I didn’t have to hide.”
Knowing what that moment meant to him as an athlete, Hyman vowed to bring a Pride flag on his K2 expedition and expressed his plans to take a photo unfurling it at base camp. Additionally, he has partnered with the Human Rights Campaign and will be holding up one of their Equality banners for a similar photo op.
As one of the HRC’s Athletes for Equality, Hyman is using his climb to raise money for the advocacy group’s Youth Well-being program which helps fund community centers, after-school programs, and health regimens for LGBTQ kids. You can contribute at his Aidan Climbs homepage.
Of course, bringing these symbols of LGBTQ Pride into Pakistan complicates matters. Hyman admitted feeling some trepidation because of that country’s anti-gay laws and planned to conceal his Pride flags until he reached the mountain. Nonetheless, he emphasized, “Because of what this expedition means to me, there’s no way I’m not going to bring it.”
Although K2 presents a formidable and dangerous challenge, Hyman has already pictured himself completing his mission. Anticipating his arrival at base camp, he predicted feeling “So absolutely over the moon!”
“I just feel that this is so much bigger than me,” he summed up, “While it’s definitely going to be a fulfilling personal endeavor, to just show other younger queer athletes there’s nothing stopping them, they can venture into the outdoors and pursue their own mountains too, I think it’s going to be an extraordinary feeling to know that people are going to see that and be inspired.”