Broken leg forces gay high school runner to deal with his sexuality
The excruciating pain overwhelmed my senses as the nausea surfaced. The searing hand of pain gripped my ankle as the crack of my bone cried out to my body: "Stop!"
The race trudged on. My efforts became insignificant as hordes of runners flooded past me. I clawed to the finish line where I could seek refuge from the pain. I prayed it would cease. I stumbled to the finish line, my legs gave out, and I crumpled to the dirt as more runners poured past me. As I lay in the mud with legs floating by me, I thought, "Please let the pain stop." Helped up by my teammates, I hobbled back to our tent. Finally, I thought the misery had concluded.
I had just finished the sectional cross-country meet of my junior year, where your team either qualifies for the state meet or your season ends. As reports trickled back to our tent, it sounded as if the pain would continue; this would be the first year of my high school career that our team would not be competing at the state meet. Our team had just witnessed utter defeat. The last six months of arduous work was for nothing. We huddled together feeling nothing but sorrow, we all said to each other what we thought would cheer each other up, masking our true feelings. As the light sprinkle of rain fell on our quivering bodies, we gathered in close to each other as tears began to swell.
I got the diagnosis a week later – a fractured fibula, in a boot for 12-14 weeks. The only saving grace was that I could swim to stay in shape.
Time dragged on, as I had grown accustomed to the systematic torture that some call swimming. I stood at the tile cliff peering out into the vacant pool, not a single disturbance in the tension of the water’s surface. Perched, I stood wearing nothing but my Nike nylon swim briefs and a pair of swim goggles that had seen clearer days. As I lunged myself off the tile wall into the paralyzing frigid pool, I began my workout. I swam the same 25-meter stretch of pool over and over again, without the common distraction of music or text messages, and I began to ponder. "Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going?" I delved deeper into myself with every monotonous stroke. I focused on my running, where I wanted to take it, or where it wanted to take me. I thought about what I wanted to do with my blessing of life. I thought about love, who really loves me and who I really love.
As the winter days soldiered on, I began to hone in on certain topics to digest during my night swims, but this particular day I had ignored for far too long. Inside I was becoming comfortable with being gay, but the simple thought of telling anyone or someone finding out sent my steel emotional security doors shooting up to protect me from the ill will of others. I was in a battle with myself. I had always known that I was a confident and accepting guy, so why couldn’t I accept myself?
My main fear was that I would be seen only as gay. That freaked the living daylights out of me; I am so much more than gay. I am a Boy Scout that has reached the rank of Eagle; I am an artist, a leader of four clubs at my high school, a captain of my team. I am so much more. I would tell myself, "If it is not that big of a deal, then why don’t you tell anyone?" I was afraid. Afraid of what others might think or would say. I was afraid of what would change.
This fear compelled me to fume with rage. I always saw myself as a brave kid, but I was pretending to be someone that I wasn’t because I was afraid. I realized that this fear had engulfed my spirit for far too long. It poisoned my confidence in far too many races and distanced me from far too many friendships. I had to make it stop. I began to free myself from the shackles of fear and lies when I told two of my closest friends.
We were staying at friend’s lake house for a team-building workshop with my youth group. The conversation, that I prompted, was about two things that no one knows about you. As we walked and talked in the winter wonderland, I dragged the conversation on, trying to come up with anything to talk about except myself. When we reached about a mile away from the house, we sat near the shore and looked out onto the lake.
As the time for my turn came, I started to shake and sweat as I tried with all my might to just say, "I’M GAY DAMMIT AND I’M PROUD!" I choked. After a painfully long pause, I managed to tell a fabricated story to fill in the void on the conversation. I sat in shock that I chickened out. The suggestion was made that we head back and I panicked. This was the night, this was the perfect night and it would be lost because I was too scared. As we marched back, I dragged my feet in the snow as I looked down at my mittens. I knew it was time to free myself from the cinderblock walls of my prison that some call a closet. I said, with dramatic hand movements helping me convey my thoughts and raw emotions, "I don’t really ... like ... girls."
Our walking slowed, and my heart stopped. The pause seemed to last ages until the phrase "OK, cool" shattered the windowpane of social separation and fear. With that one simple response, I felt that everything would be all right. I had just revealed my true self to my two best friends.
Now that I had a support group of my two closest friends I was ready to tell more people. I began informing people about the piece of me that had been harbored deep in my soul for far too long. I began to smile and a wonderful sensation that had been forced for quite some time.
I returned to land after what seemed like ages in the pool, I ran with a new intensity and vigor. I had shed the feelings of fear and doubt and I ruled the track with confidence.
After winning my first race back, I anchored our 4x800 relay team. There were only two weeks before the sectional track meet, and I knew there was no time to waste. When our 4x800 team qualified for the state track meet, I knew this was it. My fourth race back from a crippling injury, and I would be carrying the baton across the line for my three other teammates. In the preliminary qualifying race, we ran just fast enough to make it into the finals race that very next day. The morning of the race, I woke up cool, calm and confident. I knew what I had to do and how I would do it. There was some pressure in lieu of the fact that our team was the defending state champions of the 4x800. I pushed all of my fears and self-doubt aside because I knew that the only way to succeed; the only way to be happy is to be honest with yourself. Let others think what they want without allowing it affect how you live your life.