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‘Like I just swam the English Channel’

Marathon swimmer completes 110-mile dream goal at 64

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Diana Nyad, sports, swimming, gay news, Washington Blade
Diana Nyad, sports, swimming, gay news, Washington Blade

Diana Nyad swam the roughly 110 miles from Cuba in just under 53 hours without a shark cage or swim fins. (Photo by Dawn L. Blomgren; courtesy of 42 West)

On Monday, Diana Nyad walked onto the shore at Smathers Beach in Key West just after 2 p.m. She had just swam the roughly 110 miles from Cuba in just under 53 hours without a shark cage or swim fins. She is the first person to accomplish this feat.

This was the fifth and final attempt for the 64-year-old Nyad, who came out of retirement from marathon swimming in 2010 to revisit her dream of making the crossing, which she first attempted in 1978.

Her second, third and fourth attempts between 2010 and 2012 ended for a variety of reasons including weather conditions and repeated stinging by jellyfish and man-of-wars.

Nyad had three things to say to her cheering onlookers when she reached the sand.

“One is, we should never give up,” she said. “And two is, you are never too old to chase your dreams. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team,” Nyad said as she was whisked away for medical examination.

While Diana Nyad may be a new name to most of the world, she grabbed my attention in 1975 when she made national headlines by swimming the 28 miles around the island of Manhattan in less than eight hours.

At the time I was swimming in the long distance program at the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club. Besides competing in pools, we also hosted one- and four-mile open water races in a local quarry every summer.

When Nyad came into the public eye, her accomplishments were unfathomable to all of who were doing the same thing on a much smaller scale. Nyad, along with another marathon swimmer from the same era, Lynne Cox, became an instant hero to the entire swimming community.

A few of my teammates were so inspired by Nyad’s Manhattan swim that a few years later they made their own open water attempt at crossing the widest part of Lake Erie. It’s 57 statute miles from Cleveland to the shores of Canada and my teammates were eventually pulled out of the water at just under the 30-mile mark.

Nyad’s marathon swimming accomplishments spanned the entire decade of the 1970s.   Her first attempt at swimming from Cuba to Key West was in August of 1978, in a shark cage, which ended with her being pulled out after 76 miles. Her final competitive swim was in August of 1979 when she set a world record for distance swimming (both men and women) by swimming 102 miles from the Bahamas to Florida in just over 27 hours.

After Nyad retired, the sport of open water swimming exploded and thousands of athletes, including myself, are racing in oceans, rivers, lakes and bays. A 10K race for men and women was finally introduced at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 5K, 10K and 25K races are contested at the FINA World Championships every two years.

Here in D.C., during the summer months, up to 80 swimmers can be seen jumping off the pier every Thursday night in National Harbor for swims out around the buoys in the Potomac River. The swims are part of a training series run by Wave One Swimming. The group will host the 2013 Swim for the Potomac which includes open water races in the 3K, 5K and 10K disciplines on Sept. 15.

Just a few days before Nyad — who is openly gay — began her epic swim on Aug. 31, I met two women at the pool who were training for the Potomac River 7.5 Mile for the Environment next year.

I asked how long they had been active in open water swimming and one said, “Oh, we are suffering from late-life athleticism.”

When Diana Nyad finished her incredible journey on Monday, I wondered if those two women realized that their late-life athleticism was probably in some way related to Nyad’s accomplishments.

Since completing her swim, Nyad’s Twitter feed has been overwhelmed with messages from well-wishers including a special tweet from President Obama. Several men, myself included, admitted to shedding tears over her triumph and several parents stated that their children have a new hero.

I am incredibly happy that the world is honoring Nyad for her astounding athletic accomplishment.

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A Revolution for Women in Baseball

Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball.

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Rachel Balkovec was hired as a hitting coach in the Yankees’ system in 2019. She will now manage the Class A Tampa Tarpons.Credit. Photo Courtesy of Rachel Balkovec/Instagram.

The Yankees were late on introducing an African-American player to their roster, adding Hall of Famer Elston Howard to the team in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Yankees seem determined not to repeat that bad history.  Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball when she takes the helm of the Tampa Tarpons this spring. 

It has been just over ten years since Justin Siegal threw batting practice to the Cleveland Guardians and five since she was the first woman to coach a MLB squad with the Oakland Athletics.  Two years ago, Kim Ng became the first female General Manager of any of the four major professional sports when the Marlins hired her to run their team.  In the two years since then, the dam has burst.  Women have been hired to important on-field positions with professional baseball at an impressive clip.  As baseball has lagged behind other professional sports in bringing women into the game, the current pace of hires indicates that baseball’s embrace of analytics and objective measures have finally penetrated the walls of one of the most enduring old boys clubs in the U.S. and given talented women opportunities they have long been denied.

Ten women will be coaching with major or minor league teams in 2022.  In 2021, Bianca Smith became the first African-American woman to coach in the minors when the Red Sox hired her. Alyssa Nakken became the first woman in uniform during a Major League Baseball game when she coached first base for the Giants in a July 2020 exhibition against the Oakland A’s.  Her jersey now belongs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Cuban-American Veronica Alvarez is not only the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Baseball team, she also served as a spring training coach for the Oakland A’s.

The proliferation of women in baseball is not an accident.  More girls than ever are playing baseball.  Here, in the DC area, 160 girls participated with D.C. Girls Baseball in 2021.  Baseball for All, an organization that supports and promotes girls in baseball, held a tournament last summer that drew nearly 600 girls who play baseball.  There are more women than ever on collegiate baseball rosters.  Major League Baseball has also devoted significant resources to girls and women in baseball, running several development camps for girls in baseball.  Six of the women now coaching professional baseball participated in MLB’s Take the Field initiative, which is designed to help place women into baseball positions. To top it all off, the classic film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own, is getting a reboot on Amazon Prime this year.

The pace of hiring is exhilarating.  Unfortunately, every report of a woman being hired is followed by predictable hateful commentary on social media.  Many cannot imagine that a woman may be hired for a baseball position on merit and resort to making sexist and derogatory comments.  As women in baseball, the coaches are used to that vitriol and have developed thick skin and sophisticated defense mechanisms.  However, also reading are thousands of girls who are inspired by the achievements of these women and they are, sadly, learning that to achieve in baseball means enduring the sexist taunts, gross come-ons, and hurtful comments.

Baseball has a long way to go.  Other leagues have women officiating games, so it should be reasonable to expect that baseball will have women umpires in the near future.  The possibility of women playing professional baseball is tantalizingly close as 17 year old Genevieve Beacom made history last week as the first women to play Australian professional baseball, when she threw a scoreless inning against the Adelaide Giants.

We are watching a revolution in baseball unfold before our eyes. 

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Gus Kenworthy skis for Great Britain at 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

The freestyle skiing Olympic medalist continues to advocate for sport to become a more accepting place for openly gay athletes

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Gus Kenworthy (Screenshot courtesy Beijing Olympic Winter Games/IOC)

Out British-American freestyle skier, actor, and YouTuber Gus Kenworthy, will be competing in his third Olympic Winter Games, but his first for Team GB next month for the 2022 Beijing Games. In 2014 and 2018 Kenworthy represented the USA where during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia he became an Olympic Silver Medalist.

In an interview recorded in December, Kenworthy stressed his personal mantra of ‘Let people be themselves.’ The freestyle skiing Olympic medalist continues to advocate for sport to become a more accepting place for openly gay athletes.

Having recently won bronze in slopestyle for Team USA at PyeongChang 2018, Kenworthy is aiming for another podium place at his “third and final Games”, where he’s focusing on halfpipe at Beijing 2022, representing Great Britain. Kenworthy said with quiet determination that this year’s Winter Games will be his last as an Olympic competitor.

Kenworthy joins a “record number” of openly LGBTQ+ athletes heading to the Beijing games, Outsports reported. The 2018 Winter Olympics featured 15 out queer athletes, and Outsports noted that the Beijing games will see more openly LGBTQ+ athletes than previously Winter Games.

PinkNewsUK notes that there was a question as to whether Kenworthy would be able to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics, which kick off in February.

Just weeks ago, Kenworthy shared in an Instagram post that he recently got a “bad concussion” while at a training camp in Switzerland.

He explained that he’s had a “few serious” traumatic brain injuries in the past so the “seriousness of each added concussion has been stressed to me”.

 

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Out professional soccer player calls out ‘homophobic abuse’ from crowd

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd

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Photo courtesy of Josh Cavallo Instagram

Professional soccer player Josh Cavallo, who became the only openly gay top-flight male professional footballer last year, told his Instagram followers over the weekend that he experienced “homophobic abuse” during his last game. 

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd at AAMI Park during his team’s Saturday game against the Melbourne Victory.

“As a society it shows we still face these problems in 2022,” he wrote. “This shouldn’t be acceptable and we need to do more to hold these people accountable. Hate never will win. I will never apologise for living my truth and most recently who I am outside of football.”

Cavallo added that he was also targeted after the game online. 

“To @instagram I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that I’ve received,” he said. “I knew truely being who I am that I was going to come across this. It’s a sad reality that your platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) said it was “shocked and saddened” to hear Cavallo’s reports of “homophobic bullying,” according to the Guardian

“Our players, staff and fans have the right to feel safe on and off the pitch,” APL CEO Danny Townsend said. “There is no place for bullying, harassment or abuse in Australian football and we have zero tolerance for this harmful behaviour.”

The APL is working with both teams to investigate the incident, adding that sanctions will be issued to anyone involved. 

In a statement, Adelaide United Chief Executive Officer Nathan Kosmina said that the team was “appalled” at the “verbal abuse” that Cavallo received. 

“Adelaide United is proud to be an inclusive and diverse football club, and to see one of our players subjected to homophobic abuse is disappointing and upsetting,” he said. “Josh continues to show immense courage and we join him in calling out abuse, which has no place in society, and it will not be tolerated by our Club.”

The Melbourne Victory added that it “sees football as a platform to unite fans no matter what background. Spectators found to have breached these standards will be banned from future matches.”

At the end of his Instagram message, Cavallo thanked those sending him positive messages, love and support. 

“Love will always win,” he said. 

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