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

Local swimmers say water kept beckoning despite varied life circumstances

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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.”

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Sports

Washington Football Team embraces Pride Night Out

‘Football is for everyone’

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The first-ever Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team is set for Thursday.

Team DC launched its ‘Night OUT’ series in 2005 as an LGBTQ community night with the Washington Nationals. 

Over the years, they added events with other local professional sports teams – DC United, Washington Mystics, Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Kastles, Washington Spirit, Old Glory DC, Washington Prodigy and Citi Open.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, Team DC will host the first annual Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team marking their first partnership with the National Football League.

“We had tried reaching out in the past but eventually made the decision that we would not engage until the name was changed,” says Brent Minor, founder and executive director of Team DC. “We don’t want these community nights to just be a monetary transaction, we want to build bridges and encourage inclusion.”

This week’s game is the Washington Football Team’s Week 2 matchup against the New York Giants and will be televised on Thursday Night Football. 

Along with Pride Night OUT, it will also be a celebration of Latinx Heritage Month and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, who was a pioneer and trailblazer for equality and civil rights during his years with the team as a player and executive.

Frontline workers from the LGBTQ community including Whitman-Walker Health, Food & Friends and medical providers will be recognized and there will be a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s gospel ensemble of ‘Lift Every Voice.’

The new relationship with the Washington Football Team began when they reached out to Capital Pride and Team DC with a request for a cultural competency training for WFT staffers.

“We spoke with about 75 members of their staff, and it wasn’t just a window dressing exercise — people were engaged,” Minor says. “During the training, Night OUT came up, which led to a discussion on corporate perspective regarding the LGBTQ community.”

Another cultural competency training is expected to occur in the future and the Washington Football Team has pledged to have a yet to be determined role at Capital Pride in 2022.

In August 2020, former NFL player Jason Wright was hired by the Washington Football Team to become their team president, where he leads their business operations, financing, and marketing strategies. 

“We went through a leadership change when Jason Wright was hired and the direction of our outreach will be much broader than it was in the past,” says Joey Colby-Begovich, vice president of guest experience, operations for the Washington Football Team. “We want to be intentional in celebrating our communities beyond the traditional football fans and that includes people of color and marginalized communities. Football is for everyone.”

The DMV region is comprised of a broad spectrum of people who represent the changing demographics of our country. Establishing connections to communities where people from different backgrounds and sexual orientations can find commonality is important for any organization interested in social responsibility.

“We are hoping that we can cultivate a broader fan base that feels safe and comfortable in our space. That includes stronger and deeper relationships with our communities and opportunities in our employee base — we want to be involved in the discussion,” Colby-Begovich says. “The support that we shared for Carl Nassib coming out is an example of our direction. There is change happening.”

The excitement is palpable from the D.C. LGBTQ community as more than 100 tickets have already been sold for the inaugural Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team.

“I think back to the beginning when we first established a relationship with the Washington Nationals. Years later after the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, they reached out and asked, ‘What can we do,’” says Minor. “Establishing these relationships is important and who knows where this leads when you are embraced in a positive way? When you can break down a barrier between the LGBTQ community and the NFL, that’s rarefied air.”

Tickets for Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team can be found at teamdc.org.

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If a nation? ‘Team LGBTQ’ ranked 11th in medal tally at Tokyo Olympics

182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

TOKYO – Delayed by the coronavirus pandemic by one year and then held under tight restrictions including no spectators or cheering fans in the stands, the Tokyo Olympics drew to a close Sunday with one group of athletes, LGBTQ+ Olympian competitors, having made historic gains.

Affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by OutSports magazine, at least 182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games, more than triple the number who participated at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, the magazine reported.

“In fact, if the LGBTQ Olympians competed as their own country — affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by Outsports — they would rank 11thin the total medal count (right behind France and before Canada), with 32 team and individual medals: 11 gold, 12 silver and nine bronze,” reflected NBC Out.

30 different countries were represented by at least one publicly out LGBTQ+ athlete covering 34 sports, including the first trans Olympians, Team New Zealand’s weightlifter, Team USA’s Reserve BMX racer Chelsea Wolfe, and Team Canada’s Quinn, the 25-year-old, soccer player who goes by a single name and uses the pronouns “they” and “their.”

The most notable Olympic medal win was that of Canadian Women’s Soccer midfielder Quinn, who became the first openly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in another trailblazing moment at the Tokyo Games for the marginalised LGBTQ+ community.

Photo via Instagram

In another Olympic triumph, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured his first Olympic Gold medal alongside teammate Matty Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points. For Daley it was his fourth career Olympic medal including a Bronze Medal won in the the Men’s 10m platform completion at Tokyo as well.

Outsports and NBC Out published the following list of medalists;

The gold medalists were Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha for the 10-kilometer event; French martial artist Amandine Buchard for mixed team judo; Venezuelan track and field athlete Yulimar Rojas for the triple jump; Irish boxer Kellie Harrington; New Zealand rower Emma Twigg; U.S. women’s basketball team members Sue Bird, Chelsea Gray, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi; American 3-on-3 basketball player Stefanie Dolson; Canadian women’s soccer team members Quinn, Kadeisha Buchanan, Erin McLeod, Kailen Sheridan and Stephanie Labbe; French handball players Amandine Leynaud and Alexandra Lacrabère; New Zealand rugby players Gayle Broughton, Ruby Tui, Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman; and, of course, British diver Tom Daley, who finally took home the gold for synchronized diving at his fourth Games.

NBC Out’s Dan Avery noted that after she earned silver for the Philippines, featherweight boxer Nesthy Petecio told reporters, “I am proud to be part of the LGBTQ community,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Let’s go, fight!” she added. “This fight is also for the LGBTQ community.”

“The presence and performance of these out athletes has been a huge story at these Games,” Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler told NBC Out in an email. “30% of all the out LGBTQ Olympians in Tokyo won a medal, which means they didn’t just show up, they also performed at a very high level.”

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Out British diver Tom Daley takes Bronze medal in men’s 10m platform

“I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

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British Olympic Diver Tom Daley wins Bronze via Team Great Britain Twitter

KASAI RINKAI PARK, Tokyo- After tough competition in the Men’s 10m platform diving from China’s Cao Yuan who picked up the Gold Medal and his teammate Yang Jian cinching the number two spot with a Silver Medal, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured a Bronze Medal win with a score of 548.25

This is the second Olympic Bronze Medal for the Plymouth, England native, in individual diving completion since he won bronze at the London Games in 2012. Daley and his teammate Daniel Goodfellow won a Bronze Medal in the 10m synchronised at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

With this Bronze win, it will be his fourth overall career Olympic Games medal win after taking the Gold two weeks ago in the Tokyo games along with his British teammate diving partner Matty Lee. Daley and Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points.

During a post event press conference Daley said; “I am so happy that this Olympics has gone the way it has. I feel like a different athlete, I feel like I’ve been through so many different things over the years.”

“At the end of May, I didn’t even know if I was going to make it to these Games. I tore my meniscus and had knee surgery, I always dreamed I’d be fit enough to come back and dive at these Olympics,” he continued adding, “If someone had told me I was going to win a gold and a bronze, I probably would have laughed in their face. I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

Reflecting on his medal win the diver noted, “Once you’re in the final, that’s what I love. I love competition when it counts, there was great competition with the two Chinese divers, they pulled away when I missed it a little bit on the fourth dive,” the apparently thrilled Daley smiled and added, “I’m extremely happy to come away with another Olympic medal.”

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