UPDATE July 31: Hannah Roberts and Perris Benegas finished first and second in the seeding round of BMX Freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics. They will be the final two riders in the medal round on Aug. 1.
BMX Freestyle makes its debut as an Olympic event at the Summer Olympics this weekend and it will have a strong contingent of LGBTQ representation vying for the gold.
Among the historic number of out athletes competing this year are U.S. Women’s BMX Freestyle team members Hannah Roberts, Perris Benegas and Chelsea Wolfe.
All three placed in the top five at the UCI Urban World Championships last month, with Roberts taking home the championship. But 2021 and their individual tracks to the Olympics were busy beyond what they do on their bikes.
Roberts’ win in June marked the 19-year-old’s third world championship, which alongside her Pan American Games gold medal makes for quite the trophy case. She qualified for the U.S. national team in February, months ahead of the games, and enters as a gold medal favorite.
The months ahead of her jam-packed 2021, though, gave her a new sense of stability. Roberts bought her first home in North Carolina in October 2020 and married her wife, Kelsey Miller, two months later.
“Just being able to have a home base and a place to call my own, it’s definitely holding me more accountable,” Roberts told Forbes. “My wife is amazing. She makes me eat right and work out when I’m supposed to. That helps on days I’m struggling to get out of bed or going through my lows. Even when I’m too tired to drive to a training center, she’ll drive me and sit there and call out tricks.”
Benegas has had a similar whirlwind year leading into the Olympics. The 2018 UCI Urban World champion came out publicly as gay in a May Instagram post.
“My whole life I’ve been searching for happiness, while forcefully suppressing who I really was, moreso, who I really am,” Benegas said. “My opening line with close friends and family for the past month or so has been “so, I’ve been living a lie all my life”... I felt that was the best way to break into an honest conversation of telling my friends, family and love ones that I’m gay.”
Sharing her identity brought Benegas out of a depressive period fueled by fear of public response to her living out and proud and any possible affect doing so might have professionally. But seeing “Happy Perris” put those feelings to rest for now.
“In having these heart-to-heart conversations, not one person expressed a single negative thing. Instead, they were happy and relieved a “Happy Perris” was finally here and present. I was reminded that I owed the world no explanation or announcement,” she said. “For the first time ever, I’m extremely excited to live my life free and to be wholeheartedly me.”
Wolfe enters the Olympics as an U.S. national team alternate, yet the very act of making the team carved out an entry in Olympic record books for the BMX veteran. Wolfe became the first out transgender athlete to make a U.S. Olympic team with her fifth-place finish at the 2021 UCI Urban World Championships.
It remains to see if she will actually compete at the Games, but donning the American uniform as part of the delegation provides representation for trans American audiences not seen before. Especially as trans women and girls see their right to compete in sports as their identified gender coming under constant attack in recent years.
“You are valuable and valid, and your rights are just as important as anyone else’s and we’re not going to let anyone take that from you,” Wolfe told Outsports’ Karleigh Webb in 2020. “If you can live life openly as yourself in a world so hostile to your existence, then you already have the strength of a champion.”