Two former college club swimmers, one gay and one straight, from the District of Columbia Aquatics Club are featured this week in the ongoing All Star series in the Washington Blade. The LGBT sports community in D.C. has grown to more than 7,000 athletes and has drawn in both gay and straight competitors.
At the urging of his parents, Tommy Scibilia played everything from baseball to volleyball to soccer while he was growing up in Fairax, Va. None of them stuck until he started swimming year around in the eighth grade. He swam all four years in high school and when he committed to attend the University of Virginia, he had a decision to make.
“I chose the club swimming route which is part competitive and part social,” Scibilia says. “I’m glad that I did that because a lot of the varsity swimmers burn out. I still appreciate the sport and want to continue to pursue it.”
Though it may not be as intense as NCAA swimming, college club swimming is filled with athletes looking to challenge themselves. Scibilia attended up to six meets per school year at different schools as well as the Collegiate Club Swimming Championships at Georgia Tech.
After graduating with a master’s degree in urban and environmental planning, Scibilia moved back to the area in 2016 and works as a city planner in Fairfax. One of his new roommates told him about the LGBT-based D.C. Aquatics and he joined a few months later.
Scibilia attended his first meet with his new teammates in Miami in May at the International Gay & Lesbian World Championships. He says the experience could have been intimidating but his teammates and past swimming races helped him feel comfortable.
“It comes back pretty fast when you are up on the blocks again. You don’t lose the spirit of it,” Scibilia says. “I’m a little shy and I wasn’t sure what to expect being new and younger, but everyone was welcoming and really funny.”
Coming up for Scibilia is the D.C. Aquatics-hosted meet in October and plans to attend his first Gay Games in Paris next year. He says the swim meets are a good way to get to know his teammates outside of the regular practice routine.
“I like the age range on D.C. Aquatics. It’s cool to know that people have been swimming on this team for decades,” Scibilia says. “I have a lot to look forward to in the future.”
Sara Hewitt was born in D.C. and grew up in Glen Echo, Md. She swam in the Montgomery County Swim League from ages 5-18 along with swimming on her high school team for four years. While she was attending University of Maryland, she joined the college club team that was formed in her senior year.
After graduation, she was swimming on her own in 2010 at the Tacoma Aquatic Center and spotted D.C. Aquatics across the pool having a butterfly workout.
“I saw them again the next week and went up and asked if I could join,” Hewitt says. “I looked at their website to see if they accepted straight people and it wasn’t a prerequisite to be gay. I was excited about getting a real practice with a team.”
After a couple months of training, Hewitt attended her first meet and during her 100-yard individual medley race, her new teammates stepped forward to cheer her on.
“This is a welcoming group of people and there is so much camaraderie,” Hewitt says. “Safe spaces in sports are important and it’s incredible to be a part of their safe space.”
Hewitt, who works as an engineer, attended her first International Gay & Lesbian World Championships in Honolulu in 2011 and has since been to the championships in Reykjavik, Seattle, Stockholm and Miami.
She also marches every year with her teammates in the Capital Pride parade and next year will mark her first participation in the Gay Games in Paris. The environment continues to feel welcome to her and she shares an experience from the Championships in Miami this past May.
“I lost my goggles in my first race, the 800-meter freestyle, and when I finished the Miami-based timer said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you kept swimming.’ The timer in my second race was the boyfriend of the timer in the first race. Both guys ended up cheering for me in all the rest of my races. I am meeting encouraging people that I will see again at future competitions. What a great environment for a swim meet.”