Sean Gunn competed for the University of Kentucky, while also taking to the Olympic pool for Zimbabwe. | Cameron Schwab

Sean Gunn isn’t one to cry.

But when the swimmer walked into the Maracanã Stadium in Rio for the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games – representing his African home nation of Zimbabwe – he was overwhelmed.

“I’m not that much of a person who cries, but before walking into the stadium at the opening ceremony, I definitely got emotional,” Gunn told Outsports. “I couldn’t believe that I was there, and surrounded by so many people I had looked up to and admired for years.”

The international stage wasn’t unfamiliar to Gunn. He had competed in the FINA World Swimming Championships as a teenager. By 2016, Gunn was a swimmer at the University of Kentucky. There he was part of relay teams that broke school records. 

It was also at Kentucky where Gunn came to realize and accept that he was gay. 

“Initially I was not out at all,” Gunn said of his tenure at Kentucky. “I dated girls for the first few years. I had some really great relationships with girls over the years and really loved them. 

“Obviously over time that changed and I started dating guys later on. But my team, and everyone who did know, was very supportive and happy for me.”

Sean Gunn came out as gay and found support at Kentucky

Wait, Gunn found support after coming out in… Kentucky? Surely they avoided him in the locker room or rooming on road trips.

“I honestly don’t think anything really changed at all,” Gunn said. “If anything, friendships just became better. I think in my head I built it up for so long, and I was terrified that the way they acted or treated me would be different. But I was really lucky that everyone was so amazing and wanted me to be the happiest version of myself.”

While Gunn was dating men and out to various people on the Kentucky swim team, his family nearly a half-world away in southern Africa had no idea he was gay at the time.

“Unfortunately I only came out to my family and people back at home much later in life,” he said. “Although I haven’t had one bad experience since coming out, I guess I just struggled with it for way too long. 

“In saying that, I left home when I was 18 years old to go live, train and study in the USA. I had quite a long-term relationship with a girl, but after that ended I dated a guy in the U.S., which all my friends and team knew about.”

Sean Gunn is living his life as an out gay man

Today, Gunn is totally out in his life – living in Cape Town, South Africa with his boyfriend and working at a new job.

“As someone who did struggle with coming out and only did come out at 27 to my family, it makes me so happy to be surrounded by friends and family and so much love, and am really grateful for them all.”

Back to those personally memorable Olympics, Gunn competed in the much-heralded 100-meter freestyle in 2016, finishing with his national record in the event: 50.87 seconds. While that record has since been eclipsed, his 200-meter freestyle national record from earlier in 2016 still holds today.

Medal or not, competing at the Olympic Games meant the world to Gunn. He had represented the continent of Africa that is largely under-represented in the sport on the international stage.

“I honestly loved every second of the whole experience,” Gunn told Outsports. “I had dreamed of going to the Olympics since I was a little kid, and the whole time I was there I had to keep reminding myself that this is real life.

“Knowing how much it took for me to get there has been a solid reminder to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to and set me up well for life after the Olympics and after a swimming career.”

Moving past a swimming career

That swimming career ended a year after the Olympics. Like so many elite athletes, Gunn had poured countless hours into training for his big moments on the international stage. 

Also like so many of those elite athletes, he was happy to walk away from competition and endless training.

“I really needed the break, and it took a long time for me to be able to enjoy swimming again. I definitely don’t swim fast or far these days, but slowly over time I’ve fallen back in love with the sport, and can get back in the pool and not hate it.”

Today, he takes to the running trails more than the pool. 

“My life really is in such a good space right now, and I have so much to be grateful for! I’m getting older, but I’ve never felt younger, fitter and happier, which means the world to me!”

You can follow Sean Gunn on Instagram.

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