Landon Driggers is an all-American swimmer at the University of Tennessee who is now training for the Team USA Olympic Trials. He is learning to drown out the noise. | Photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee

Landon Driggers had different plans for his junior season with the Vols.

The swimmer at the University of Tennessee had transferred from the Division II University of Indianapolis two years ago to swim in a bigger pond. The Division I SEC certainly provided that.

Two seasons after his transfer, the Olympic hopeful saw his times in the pool take a slight step back. Yet his times also, for Driggers, took a bit of a backseat.

The last six months transformed into a period of self-discovery and self-expression that have helped change his life for the better.

And he wouldn’t trade it in for anything.

In the pool this season, he would call his overall performance a bit of a disappointment. At the 2024 NCAA National Championships last month, Driggers’ best finish was 25th place in the 400 IM.

A year earlier, he earned Honorable Mention All-American status in the 400 IM with a 15th-place finish and a faster time. He also placed better in the 200 backstroke and 200 IM, setting a school record in the latter.

Driggers attributes much of the seeming regression of his times to his own important self-discovery.

While Driggers came out as gay his senior year of high school, and has been out as gay since, it’s only recently that he’s presented at times more feminine, now describing himself as nonbinary.

“I’m growing in my personal life, more than I have any other season,” Driggers said. “And that’s more important than swimming. I’m choosing to be authentically me. And I’m more proud of that than anything swimming has brought me.”

Driggers said he is ditching the expectations of others for the self-expression of himself.

“A lot of it is how I’m choosing to express my physical self. It’s in part how I’m dressing now. Fashion. I’m expressing myself how I want.”

Landon Driggers and Bryden Hattie
Out gay Tennessee Volunteers swimming & diving teammates Landon Driggers, Bryden Hattie and Joey Tepper. | Landon Driggers

Until now, his more-feminine self-expression has been largely with close friends. With his gay besties on the team — diver Bryden Hattie and swimmer Joey Tepper — he lets his hair down.

Driggers said having other out gay teammates has been an important support system for him.

“There is definitely a bond between us,” he said. “I’m a transfer student, so I’ve been here only two years. But I see Joey and Bryden every day. Talking with them and sharing stories together, it’s nice to not feel alone.”

Driggers mentioned the stories of other LGBTQ athletes on Outsports also inspired him to better express himself.

“I’ve read previous Outsports stories where people talk about being the representation in sports,” he said. “I don’t hear of very many athletes being nonbinary and fully embracing that. I personally have taken a lot of confidence from beating straight and cis men every day.

“There is this stereotype that if you’re gay or a male presenting feminine, then you can’t win. But I’m beating those people every day.”

He certainly is.

While not yet the fastest person in the national pool, Driggers’ copious top-50 placements at NCAAs — across various events — reflects some incredible focus, talent and hard work.

And yeah, beating a lot of cis straight guys.

Yet in the next 10 weeks, the scoreboard is cleared. None of that matters.

2024 SEC Swimming & Diving Championships in Auburn, Ala. (Photo: Stew Milne, courtesy of the University of Tennessee)

What matters to Landon Driggers and countless other athletes hoping to earn a spot at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics is making their National Team.

For his best event, the 400 IM, Driggers was blunt: At Trials, he must finish in the top two, or he’s out. At last year’s U.S. National Championships, he finished second.

“I don’t know that it’s probable to make the U.S. Olympic team this year, but at the very least I’m in striking distance,” he said.

Olympic dreams are made every spring and summer. And Driggers is in the conversation. If he wins the Trials race, he will be in Paris. If he finishes second… he probably will be. Third? Likely no chance.

What helps him is a literal change of course. NCAA races are run on a “short course,” meaning that every 25 yards, a swimmer has to turn around. That’s a lot of turns over the course of 400 yards.

At the Olympics and Olympic Trials, the pool length is 50 meters. That means half the turns.

“I like the long course because my turns are trash,” he said. “But my four strokes are very efficient.”

The IM — individual medley — event demands swimmers to do all four traditional strokes in swimming: free, breast, back and fly. Driggers’ best stroke is the backstroke. But his strength, and his chance of making the U.S. Olympic team, relies on his ability do execute all four strokes well.

Winning that Trials race in the 400 IM, or at least getting top-two, is his priority.

And, as he’s training for the Olympic Trials, Driggers said he would keep trying to build bridges by simply expressing himself honestly.

Competing for a university in the South, he has encountered people who question his identities. He hopes he can quell those questions, both as a Volunteer and hopefully a representative of the United States.

“We live in a world that’s very divided. It’s difficult to have hope at times. But the only way to overcome issues is if we break down that division.

“That looks like not hating the people who tell you, ‘we love you but we’re going to judge you.’ I think you have to choose to not hate them, even though that might be easier to do.”

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