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Meet 2 couples sharing their lives and a love of sports

Rowing, swimming offer friendly competition and a common bond

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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.”

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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”.

 

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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

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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. 

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