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For gay West Virginia athletes, their wedding day was ‘ultimate team brunch’

Candace and Tig Archer started dating while runners at West Virginia University. It was only fitting that their close-knit team was an integral part of their wedding.

Candace and Tig Archer kiss
Tig, left, and Candace Archer found each other as runners at West Virginia University and married in 2019.
Photo by Norman Willis

The two of us looked out at the crowd for our wedding on Aug. 10, 2019. It was a beautiful and special day made more special by seeing how many of our coaches and teammates were there.

We — Candace Archer and Tig Archer — met in the fall of 2016 on the West Virginia University cross-country team and could never have imagined that three years later we would not only be getting married but doing it in front of so many people who had come to love us.

We became engaged in January 2018 after five months of dating, and we were not sure when to hold a wedding because we were both full time student athletes. We promised our parents we would have a long engagement and have the wedding after college, until one day in April 2019 we just looked at each other and asked what we were waiting for. We decided right there that within five months we were going to get married.

We wanted an August wedding but had to plan around our team’s training camp. We would get married and then four days after have to be back for our team’s training camp in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, the place where we first got to know each other.

Our wedding had to be planned while we were in the middle of competition season, which meant free time was very limited. Many details like what food would be served or where the venue location would be got decided in our training room while we were doing rehab together.

There is no greater understatement than to say our wedding would be impossible without our teammates. For our menu we served breakfast food — pancakes, muffins, orange juice, eggs, bacon, coffee and lemonade. We did most of it potluck style, with each teammate bringing a food item rather than a wedding gift. We had done team brunches before, but this was our ultimate team brunch.

Candace and Tig eat cake
Candace and Tig’s wedding cake was provided by a teammate’s mom.
Photo by Norman Willis

Our cake was provided by a teammate’s mom who made beautiful homemade chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with buttercream icing to die for. Our wedding photos were taken by Norm, a teammate’s dad who always helped take our team photos. He captured every cherished moment. Our wedding officiant was one of our teammates who was ordained just for our special day.

We were getting married on a team, but our marriage would be impossible if we did not have as strong of a team behind us.

Both of us compete at a high level where nerves are just a part of the sport’s demand. We each have had to compose ourselves and execute in high-pressure situations. The wedding was no different.

Tig stayed composed as one by one the bridal party walked down the aisle and lined up to make a rainbow with their bowties. Once Candace walked down the aisle to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the emotions overtook both of us.

A group wedding photo.
Candace and Tig’s teammates were among those who joined in the celebration.
Photo by Norman Willis

We knew we loved each other unconditionally and now we were committing to each other in front of everyone who was going to support of us through our marriage: our friends, our family and our teammates. We celebrated the night away and took a three-day honeymoon before coming back to go to our team camp. The same team camp where we first met in the fall of 2016.

We each began our fall 2016 season in very similar ways. We were at a training camp on the same team, with the same injury and the same dilemma. How does one train at a running camp if they are not physically healthy enough to run? The answer: the pond.

The pond was a gray still pool of water that had collected a mile away from the house our team was staying in. It was surrounded by dirt and filled with critters. Every day the girls would run, and we would cheer on the sidelines.

After everyone ate their food and was relaxing we would make our way down to the pond. One day, as soon as we got to the pond, a pounding from the sky began. Clouds thundering above with the light rain trickling down on us. We found shelter together under a canopy waiting for the storm to pass.

Under the canopy Tig discovered how angry and furious Candace can get over things beyond her control. She also found her kindness, as Tig sat under the canopy shivering because she never packed a jacket. Candace would lend Tig hers.

When we returned to campus our bubble popped, as we returned to our day to day lives and routines. However, we could not get each other out of our minds and we craved moments like we had at the pond.

One night at the end of our season, we walked home together after dinner. We were laughing about a stupid meme we saw. We laughed so hard that our stomachs began to cramp and tears rolled down our faces. It was one of the best nights we had in a long time.

We walked up the steps to Candace’s house, where Tig then admitted to having feelings. Candace was not ready for a relationship and told Tig to find someone else. Tig smiled and replied, “I’ll wait for you.” We were both in a place in our lives where we needed to grow and love ourselves before loving each other.

After a year, we decided we were both in a place to start dating. However, dating was a new obstacle the team had never handled before. When we made our decision to date, we had more questions than typical couples do like, “What will our parents think” or “Where do we spend Christmas?”

We were faced with a multitude of different dynamics and different pressures put onto our relationship such as, if we break up will we destroy the entire team dynamic? Which one of us will transfer if we break up? Or even, can I sit on the bus next to her without making my teammates uncomfortable?

Running was a vital aspect of both of our lives that we did not want anything outside of that realm to interfere with. However, we both felt so strongly towards one another that common sense usually never wins against feelings. We rationally could have waited until both of us were no longer on the team, but looking back we are glad we made the decisions we did. New can be scary and approached with fear but we have demonstrated that love is love no matter how it comes.

West Virginia University is trying to create a welcoming environment, but we do live in an area and state that is not as open and can be hostile at times.

One day as we were walking down the sidewalk holding hands, someone threw trash at us and yelled. Candace got very fired up and wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, but Tig pulled her back and we stopped.

Tig made a joke saying maybe they knew we like to recycle. Candace was furious and at her wits end having to deal with this. She wanted to leave. Tig said, “No, that is how they win.” The only way we win is by not reacting, by continuing to hold each other’s hand and show that we are not going away.

Candace and Tig Archer
Candace, left, and Tig Archer met on a training run.
West Virginia University

Our team and coaches at West Virginia have grown into our greatest support systems, which shows how this team has changed and embraced us. Candace began school with girls who did not support her being openly out. Six years later, we have been married for more than a year on this team. Our coaches and teammates all drove down for our wedding day, and half of Tig’s bridal party was made up of the team. When we have had the hardest struggles in our lives our teammates constantly step up to pick us up.

We wanted to create change here at WVU, and all of that has started with us just showing our community and the world who we are. We know being visible is not always an option for everyone, and it is not easy at times.

We are lucky to have each other and our team, that is what helps us get through the tough times. We choose to be visible for everyone, even if they cannot.

We choose to be visible because there are people that believe our marriage is not real, or that our love is fake. We think when people see how kind we are to each other and how much we make each other happy, they have a very hard time hating us and what we stand for.

Candace Archer, 24, will be graduating from West Virginia University with a master’s degree in Coaching and Sport Education in May 2021 while continuing to work on Every Kid Runs, a new nonprofit organization co-founded with Tig and Olivia Hill. She can be reached via Instagram or email (cejones2@mix.wvu.edu).

Antigone Archer, 23, will be graduating in May 2021 with a graduate certificate in Digital and Social Media while continuing to pursue her master’s degree in Social Work at Columbia University in the fall 2021 semester in New York City. She can be reached via Instagram or email (antigone.archer@gmail.com).

Candace and Antigone are on the West Virginia cross-country team and look forward to continuing their competitive running careers until they are old ladies in the master’s division

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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