Connect with us

Sports

All Stars spotlight: D.C. Aquatics offers team camaraderie however members ID

Local swimmers say water kept beckoning despite varied life circumstances

Published

on

D.C. Aquatics, gay news, Washington Blade

JULIAN CABALLERO, left, and DANA CONNORS, members of D.C. Aquatics. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

D.C. newbies often don’t realize our local LGBT sports leagues are equally welcoming to straight folks and varied skill levels.

D.C. Aquatics members Dana Connors, who’s gay, and Julian Caballero, straight, are perfect examples.

Boasting everything from beginning swimmers to Olympians, D.C. Aquatics is a dynamic team that offers structured, coached practices year around, six days a week. The coaching staff guides the swimmers on their path to either fitness or competition in U.S. Masters Swimming.

Team captain Connors describes his childhood in Corkscrew, Fla., as the typical gay kid story. He was not athletic and always felt different from other kids. He found exhilaration from horse training and learning to jump with horses at his grandmother’s house in Cape Cod.

At his brother’s urging, he joined the cross country team in high school and became addicted to daily running. That led to him completing a few triathlons before he graduated. In the years that followed, his life has taken him all over the world with sports being a constant companion.

“My sports journey was born out of ignorance, propelled by addiction and maintained by a desire for health and fitness,” Connors says. “It’s not about competition. Sports fuels my spiritual, mental and physical health. One of the things I love about D.C. Aquatics is that we are a mix of people who don’t have the same end goals.”

Connors spent four years at the University of Florida on the triathlon team where his coach encouraged him to sign up for U.S. Masters Swimming. After college were stints in France and Holland where he completed marathons, continued to swim and went to grad school. The Fulbright Program next took him to Korea.

He eventually landed a job with a biotech company in Annapolis before moving to the Shenandoah Valley where he started a bluegrass band. Connors had been playing all along with orchestras and symphonies, but his proficiencies in violin, fiddle, mandolin and guitar led him to the banjo.

The first thing that he did when he moved to D.C. in 2012 was to join D.C. Aquatics. He now works at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health where he runs a biomarker and cancer portfolio. He also plays locally in the band the October Sessions.

While he competes a few times a year with D.C. Aquatics, Connors likes to focus on other aspects of what sports mean to him.

“Masters swimming does a great job of getting all types of people into the water together. I have trained in the same lane as Olympians, but also with swimmers who are just getting started,” Connors says. “I have very few friends who are not on this team. These swimmers are my teammates, my family and my friends.”

Finding out what a sport really means to you happens when work commitments and life in general prevent you from pursuing it. Julian Caballero has stopped and started swimming multiple times and in each instance, was drawn back into the sport.

Growing up in Bogotá, Colombia meant that soccer was the overwhelming sport of choice for most children. Caballero played through his youth and then switched over to karate before swim lessons led to competitive swimming at 13.

Economic reasons ended his competitive swimming, but he picked it up again on the club team while attending the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. After completing his master’s degree, he was left with no options for competitive swimming. There were no spaces in Bogotá for adults to swim.

An internship with Inter-American Development Bank brought him to D.C. in 2003. He had studied English but had to start taking night classes to improve his skills. Once again, swimming was put on hold.

Caballero left D.C. to pursue his Ph.D. in economics at University of California, Santa Cruz and found himself in a swimming hotbed.

“I started swimming with a masters team there and it was outdoor training, all year long,” Caballero says. “I had been running and going to the gym all along, but swimming is different. I realized how much I was missing it.”

He returned to the D.C. area with his wife in 2011 to work as the lead economist for IDB Invest who provide funding to private enterprises in Latin America. His new job and married life in Arlington kept him from finding a team that worked with his schedule. He fit in lap swimming on his own whenever he could and completed a couple triathlons.

In 2017 he experienced a change in his personal life. Divorced and with too much time on his hands, he moved back into D.C. and started looking for a swim team.

“I tried a couple practices with D.C. Aquatics because they had the best schedule and locations for me. I knew they were LGBT-based, but they were very welcoming,” Caballero says. “Being on a team is something I really love. It’s more fun and a chance to meet people who will motivate me.”

Caballero has not competed in eight years but is open to returning. These days his main motivation is fitness and relaxation.

“I find solutions to things while I am swimming and it helps me to disconnect from life,” Caballero says. “Everything is better when I am in the pool. Outside of work, the people I see the most in my life are my teammates.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sports

Pro rugby player comes out

Devin Ibañez played with New England Free Jacks pre-pandemic

Published

on

Devin Ibanez, gay news, Washington Blade

Major League Rugby player Devin Ibañez came out as a gay man on his social media platforms on Tuesday. Sharing pictures of embracing and kissing his partner Fergus Wade, the former New England Free Jacks athlete stated, “as of now I am the only openly gay rugby player to earn a contract with an MLR side. I hope that I will meet others like myself playing a high level of rugby and hoping to inspire the next generation of proud LGBTQ rugby players. So I will proudly call myself ‘that gay rugger’ in hopes that one day it won’t sound strange in men’s rugby”

Ibañez shares on his new Instagram account @thatgayrugger, “as 2020 comes to a close I took the time to reflect on my life and what aspects I could control and make positive changes to that would impact my day to day life and happiness.”

He continues, “I want to start 2021 by celebrating the love of my life and my partner @ferguswade who has been with me through the highs and the (very) lows of the last three years.”

Fergus Wade and Devin Ibanez (Photo via Instagram @thatgayrugger)
Continue Reading

homepage news

Gay Games announces 2022 ‘contingency planning committee’

LGBTQ sports event expected to take place despite turmoil in Hong Kong

Published

on

Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade

Officials with Gay Games Hong Kong 2022, the committee organizing the quadrennial international LGBTQ sports event scheduled to take place in Hong Kong in November 2022, announced at an online webinar on Aug. 27 that a “contingency planning committee” has been created to address potential “risks” associated with the event.

Although those risks include the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing “social unrest” in Hong Kong, organizers stated during the webinar that the Hong Kong government remains highly supportive of the Gay Games. They said a team of more than 100 volunteers is working diligently to safely accommodate the thousands of LGBTQ athletes and spectators expected to arrive in Hong Kong in November 2022.

The webinar took place less than two months after China enacted a highly controversial security law giving the Hong Kong government greater authority in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters who have been holding demonstrations, some of which have become violent, for more than a year.

The Federation of Gay Games, the international governing body that oversees the Gay Games, reaffirmed its decision to select Hong Kong as host for the 2022 Gay Games during its Annual General Assembly meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico last November. One year earlier, the FGG selected Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, who were the two finalist cities competing with Hong Kong, to become the host city for the games.

FGG officials have predicted at least 12,000 athletes will participate in 36 sports in the 2022 Gay Games, with at least 75,000 spectators expected to turn out in Hong Kong to watch the games and participate in at least 20 accompanying arts and cultural events.

“As mentioned in the webinar, Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 has set up a contingency planning committee and has drawn up a contingency plan to cover specific risks, like the pandemic and social unrest,” said Federation of Gay Games spokesperson Shiv Paul in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade.

“FGG with GGHK are closely monitoring the health, political, sporting, travel, and international events that could impact the delivery of Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2022,” Paul said. “Contingency plans are in development to mitigate the potential impact any unfortunate circumstances might cause,” he said.

“The team on the ground in Hong Kong are doing an excellent job in keeping the board up to date with concerns surrounding Hong Kong,” Paul quoted Joanie Evans, co-president of the FGG, as saying.

Paul added, “The GGHK team is composed of a team of 100 passionate LGBTQ+ volunteers and are looking forward to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Gay Games, first in Asia. They happily make Hong King their home, feeling safe in the ability to lead out, productive lives. The organization cannot speculate on sensationalized unconfirmed preconceptions.”

He was referring to a question from the Blade asking whether China might force local Hong Kong officials to arrest Gay Games spectators from Europe, North America or elsewhere if they make statements critical of China during the Gay Games cultural events.

Under the sweeping national security law enacted by China earlier this year, Hong Kong officials have made numerous arrests of dissidents denouncing China for infringing on what dissidents say was China’s 1997 agreement with the United Kingdom to allow Hong Kong to remain a semiautonomous region of China for 50 years after the British handed over its former colony to China.

Paul said the Hong Kong government has been involved in the Gay Games Hong Kong organizers’ application process for holding the Games in Hong Kong beginning in 2016.

“GGHK has been having ongoing and regular communications with multiple departments of the Hong Kong government to ensure that they are kept abreast of the process and support required from the government,” Paul told the Blade.

“In all the interactions GGHK is having with the Hong Kong government, support continues to grow within the Hong Kong government regarding GGHK,” he said. “New allies are offering support as it will be one of the biggest events to take place in Hong Kong during the next few years and stands to positively impact on the city,” said Paul.

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment

Irish national track champion comes out as gay

Published

on

Another international pro athlete has come out as gay, in a podcast interview dropped by Outsports on Monday.

Denis Finnegan, a 10-time national track-and-field title winner in Ireland, made his revelation on the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast, telling interviewer Cyd Zeigler that he has been “drifting” toward coming out in recent years even though being gay is only a small part of who he is “as a person, and an even smaller part as an athlete,” in order to help other LGBTQ people in sports feel less alone.

“For younger people it will hopefully give them more confidence in what they’re doing,” the 33-year-old Finnegan said. “There are still people who are scared or unsure of what’s happening, so I hope just telling my story might help one person notice there’s more acceptance out there.”

The athlete, who won his 10 championships in triple jump, said that he eventually gravitated toward track and field – as opposed to team sports like basketball and Gaelic football, which he played in his younger years – because he found the atmosphere more welcoming.

“Athletics was always a place that, because it was quite mixed, it was a place I could have gotten away from everything,” he told the podcast.

“I think those sports, because they were a team sport with males, there were times when it wasn’t comfortable,” he elaborated. “Athletics was always my favorite sport, it was always the sport that was the one that was the most open. I’d be training with girls, I’d be training with guys, and I think that did help a bit. I was never worried about any kind of comments on the track. But when I was going for, say, football, it was more of an issue.”

He also said that after growing up with sports as a major part of his identity, it was important for him to find a way to continue participating after his university years.

“I loved sport and my whole family was sporty. I’d want to be doing the sports, but there was a part of them I wasn’t enjoying at all,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by many LGBTQ athletes who feel pressured to remain closeted due to the hyper-masculine environment and hetero-normative expectations typically found in male-dominated team sports.

In the interview, Finnegan also opens up about the strains of being publicly “closeted” while maintaining a personal life, as well as additional issues he faced in both the public and private sphere.

As a final thought, he shared a quote from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Trending