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

Opinions

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.

Published

on

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. 

Continue Reading

Sports

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

Published

on

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”.

 

Continue Reading

Sports

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

Published

on

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. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular