Swimmer Markus Thormeyer was a wreck leading up to the 2016 Canadian Olympic Trials, his hiding being gay so taxing and debilitating that one day he broke down and lay helpless on his bedroom floor.
“Hiding my sexuality became a huge distraction to my training and was starting to affect the relationships with my teammates,” Thormeyer recounted in a coming out essay for Outsports in 2020. “Some days I dreaded going to the pool in fear that my sexuality would be exposed. I’d show up late and leave early to social gatherings and workouts. Some days it would even spiral and I would question why I was swimming and be scared of my own goals.
“Having to deal with that was awful. Every day felt like a threat and not an opportunity.
“This mentality was not healthy and paired with the combined pressure of wanting to qualify for the Olympics became too much. I knew coming out would possibly solve these issues, but I was still scared because I didn’t know what would happen. I feared the unknown.”
Thormeyer, now 23, was only 18 at the time and at his wits’ end. So he decided to casually mention at a team hangout that he “had never been on a date with a guy before and I was kind of scared of it. That I’d probably be a nervous wreck and ruin it.”
Did his teammates shun him and call him slurs and want him off the team? That’s what his darkest fears imagined. Instead, they matter-of-factly reassured him that he would have a good time on his date if he just relaxed and was himself.
Ta-da! Thormeyer had come out to his team, they were supportive and a giant weight was lifted. The result?
“I came to the pool with my head up and smile on my face. There were no distractions. ... My training got better, I got stronger and my technique got sharper. Not only that, but I also broke down some walls between me and my teammates and our relationships flourished.”
He wound up qualifying for the 2016 Olympics (finishing seventh as part of a relay team) and has since won a gold and a bronze medal at a FINA swim event in China in 2020, a gold at a U.S. Open event in 2019, the bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and was in the finals at the FINA World Swimming Championships in 2019.
None of this would have been possible had Thormeyer not come out. He likely would not have made the 2016 Games and might have quit the sport entirely had he let his fears rule him. Instead, he was been named the 2018 and 2019 Canadian Male Swimmer of the Year, and qualified for the 200-meter backstroke at the Tokyo Games.
He has continued to be an advocate for LGBTQ people in sports and is spreading his message wider as a partner with Proctor & Gamble in its Olympic campaign called “Your Goodness Is Your Greatness,” a series highlighting inspiring athletes.
“Growing up, I was constantly googling LGBT athletes to feel a sense of belonging in sport,” he says in an ad for P&G. “There weren’t many, but the few I found were huge inspirations to me and my athletic career, and acted as role models for me. Today, I am out, proud, and hoping to act as a role model for any LGBT person who may need it. To show them they can chase their dreams and succeed at anything they put their minds to, all while spreading love and kindness. I was only able to make it here today through the love and support of my family and friends, and I want to continue perpetuating that loving atmosphere in this community.”
It’s been exciting to see how Thormeyer has blossomed since coming out, even more so when he came out publicly on Outsports in 2020 — the first time he discussed it in the media. He first contacted us in 2018 and it took almost two years of fits and starts before he was finally ready to share his story. The positive reaction took him by surprise.
“I just wanted to write something that I’m proud of and hopefully one person would read it and be inspired by it,” he told “Swimming World.” “So I kind of just submitted and didn’t really think about it and moved on. And then all that stuff happened with the pandemic [in March 2020] and my story got picked up and spread around a little bit, which was really nice. I got a lot of messages of, ‘Thank you for sharing your story; you’ve inspired me,’ or, ‘I’m going through a tough time and that really helped.’ I think me doing that gave an element of LGBT representation in swimming and sport, and I realize now that’s such a big thing.”
Thormeyer’s journey from scared athlete in the closet, fearing the worst, to out athlete brimming with confidence now that he no longer has to hide is a familiar one for many LGBTQ athletes, and hopefully his story will continue to inspire someone else struggling with the same issues he has now conquered.
Markus Thormeyer can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @lilmarquenis.