Connect with us

Sports

Meet 2 couples sharing their lives and a love of sports

Rowing, swimming offer friendly competition and a common bond

Published

on

same-sex couples, gay news, Washington Blade

On left, Sheila and Gretchen O’Sullivan are members of the DC Strokes Rowing Club. On right, Fred Dever and Eric Czander met on the DC Aquatics team. (Photos courtesy of the couples)

Many of the LGBT sports teams in D.C. count same-sex couples as members of their clubs. Some joined the team together and others became a couple after first being teammates.

Meet two LGBT couples who have woven sports into the lives they are sharing. Not only are they benefitting their own health and well-being, they are sharing it with their partner.

Sheila O’Sullivan grew up in Novi, Mich., where soccer was her sport of choice. She attended high school in England and added rowing as her spring sport.

Back in the States, she graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut in 2000. She coached rowing on Sammamish Lake in Washington before heading to grad school at Carnegie Mellon University.

Canonsburg, Pa. was home to Gretchen O’Sullivan where she played softball and tennis in high school. She attended Allegheny College and was a member of the orchestra. A stint with AmeriCorps was followed by grad school at Carnegie Mellon.

The pair became a couple after meeting at grad school in Pittsburgh. Sheila would graduate first in 2007 and leave to work with the Peace Corps before moving to D.C. in 2009 where she joined the club program of the DC Strokes Rowing Club.

“After she left I joined the learn to row program with Three Rivers Rowing in Pittsburgh,” says Gretchen. “It was all because of Sheila. I never would have thought of rowing otherwise.”

Gretchen came to D.C. the following year and started with the DC Strokes novice program. She eventually joined Sheila in the club program and they often ended up in the same boat.

“She would get frustrated with me, but the overall experience was great,” says Sheila. “It’s great being outside and working as a team. We met our core group of friends with the Strokes and even if we are not rowing, they remain in our lives.”

“She was only trying to help me when we were in a boat together, but it was sometimes stressful,” Gretchen says. “Otherwise it was wonderful and there was great energy. Our drives back and forth to practice were always fun.”

Life started getting in the way for the pair and they began swapping rowing seasons to be supportive of who had the time to row. There was work, a new puppy, a new house, and they got married in the spring of 2013.

Both were competing in regattas – Sheila moved up to the competitive program and rowed at Stonewall, Charm City Sprints and the Head of the Hooch in Tennessee; Gretchen at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland where she won medals of each color.

Gretchen was trying to get pregnant in 2015 which meant that it was Sheila’s turn to row again. Their baby was born in late 2016 and Sheila started training for a new job with the Park Police. Gretchen is working as a site coordinator with a national nonprofit. Both are currently not rowing but are itching to get back in the boat.

“I really wanted to stay involved, so I am serving on the DC Strokes board as secretary,” says Gretchen. “Rowing is really for everyone and you can adapt it to your own needs. I would love for her to row again and I also see it for myself on the horizon.”

“I love that it is something you can come back to at any age and I am inspired by rowers that are older,” Sheila says. “Rowing is a passion of mine and it will be a lifetime sport for me.”

Syracuse, N.Y. native Fred Dever grew up competing in swimming and water polo through high school. He was an NCAA Division I swimmer at Marist College for four years and captained in his final year. On the side, he lifeguarded and coached swimming and water polo.

His work in pharmaceutical sales brought him to D.C. in 1995 and he was reluctant to join DC Aquatics Club because he didn’t think a gay team would be serious.

“I joined the team in 2002 and it was great getting back into organized workouts and making new friends,” says Fred. “It’s super rewarding, competitive, and everything you can wish for as a gay athlete.”

Eric Czander started swimming year around at age nine while growing up in Westfield, N.J. He swam for four years as an NCAA Division I athlete at Vanderbilt University. His education continued at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Emory University School of Medicine for his Neurology residency.

He signed on for five years in the Navy hoping that the military lifestyle would prevent him from coming out. Before his duty began, he joined masters swimming and helped form a gay team in Atlanta where he came out in 1993. His last two years in the military brought him to D.C. where he joined DC Aquatics in 1998.

Fred and Eric met on the team and have spent the last 16 years sharing their lives with a healthy dose of swimming, triathlons and running.

“It helps with motivation to have someone to go to practice with and just having someone by your side,” says Eric. “It’s nice to be able to bounce things off each other. We are each other’s biggest motivator and biggest critic.”

“I like the way it feels having sports in our lives,” Fred says. “I would be a slacker if it wasn’t for Eric. He is much more driven than I am.”

Fred and Eric are the same age and compete in the same age group in swimming, though not in the same events. They are also of the same ability and purposefully don’t train in the same lane at practice.

“There is a little competitiveness in practice even though we don’t swim the same events,” Eric says. “Never harmful though, always healthy. Both of us have grown and learned from each other.”

“Sometimes I just want my own space, so I can be silly with our other teammates,” adds Fred.

In addition to competitive swimming, Fred and Eric have also completed running marathons and triathlons together. Eric had been competing in them for years before meeting Fred and brought him into the sports.

“My first marathon in D.C. was cancelled and Eric pushed me to run the St. Louis Marathon,” says Fred. “We always make sure the other one is safe in our races. Someone died in a recent open water race we were in and I ended up in the medical tent at the Boston Marathon. Each race starts with “I love you, be safe.”’

“When he started doing road running and triathlons, I was beating him at first and then he started beating me,” says Eric. “We try not to race next to each other, but our times are very similar. It’s good motivation.”

Coming up for the pair is a trip to Paris for Gay Games X in August where they both will be swimming eight events in the pool.

“Swimming is all about family and connections,” Fred says. “Our DC Aquatics teammates are our family.”

“It’s awesome to explore new cities and cultures together,” Eric says. “Plus, I can’t wait for Fred to butcher the French language.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sports

Washington Football Team embraces Pride Night Out

‘Football is for everyone’

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Sports

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

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

Sports

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.”

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular