An Olympic athlete has come out as gay in an emotional online essay.
Canadian swimmer Markus Thormeyer, who competed in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay team in the 2016 Olympics, posted his coming out story on the website OutSports Wednesday, beginning his narrative by revealing that “the secret I was keeping” was “holding me back” when he began training with his team in Vancouver in 2015.
“Creating these intimate bonds with my teammates was amazing, but it also made me feel guilty at the same time.” the 22-year-old athlete writes. “They were exposing their most raw essence in the pool every day, but I would come to the pool emotionally guarded and not do the same. Following every interaction with my teammates, I would feel a bit sad because they weren’t getting to know the real me, just some surface-level shell I fabricated.”
He goes on to explain, “I wanted to keep it a secret that I was gay for multiple reasons. I was scared they wouldn’t accept me. I did not want to create drama in the training group, I didn’t know how they would react. I was scared of negative responses.”
He also says that he feared his sexuality would “compromise” the team’s chances of making the Olympics. “I didn’t want to take that chance, so I kept my walls up and generally avoided talks about sexuality and dating,” he says.
At first, the swimmer says, he “thought it would be easy” to hide his secret, but “the following months in the closet” were much more difficult than he imagined, and got “progressively harder every day.”
“Some days I dreaded going to the pool in fear that my sexuality would be exposed,” Thormeyer writes. “I’d show up late and leave early to social gatherings and workouts. Some days it would even spiral and I would question why I was swimming and be scared of my own goals.
“Having to deal with that was awful. Every day felt like a threat and not an opportunity.”
In the end, the pressure of keeping his secret led to an emotional breakdown.
“I felt helpless on my bedroom floor, but I also knew that I couldn’t keep living like this,” he reveals. “At this point I knew that I would either burn out and or take control of my destiny. I decided to take control (…) and come out to my teammates. I always wanted them to know I was gay, but now I was ready for them to know.”
Because he is “not a dramatic person,” he says, the swimmer decided to slip the revelation casually into a conversation that came up with his teammates about relationships.
“I casually said that I had never been on a date with a guy before and I was kind of scared of it. That I’d probably be a nervous wreck and ruin it.
“Then, without a sliver of judgment or skipping a beat, my friends told me that I’d probably be fine on a date as long as I just had a good time and just was comfortable being myself.”
The instant acceptance and support changed everything for the Olympic then-hopeful.
“Knowing that I had such amazing teammates supporting me so strongly regardless of my sexual orientation was one of the best feelings in the world,” he says. “There was no drama and it was exactly what I wanted.”
“Feeling safe in my training environment and having no distractions allowed me to push myself to new limits in the pool,” he goes on to add. “My training got better, I got stronger and my technique got sharper. Not only that, but I also broke down some walls between me and my teammates and our relationships flourished. Training with them fostered relationships that will last a lifetime.”
After coming out to his fellow competitors, the swimmer and 6 of his teammates went on to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Thormeyer himself has enjoyed continued success, winning the gold in the 200-meter backstroke and bronze in the 100-meter backstroke in the FINA Champions Swim Series in China. He plans to join the Olympic trials this Spring in order to qualify for this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo Olympics.
He concludes his inspiring story by announcing his decision to join Team Canada’s OneTeam, an organization which promotes LGBTQ inclusion and respect in schools and sport throughout the country.
“I want to share my story and be able to spread the message that it’s OK to be gay. Life is much better when you fully embrace you for who you are.”