South Dakota's first out gay college athlete plays basketball for Dakota Wesleyan University

One year ago today I was sitting on the couch at my sister's house in complete silence. It had been a couple hours now, but there I was not talking. I couldn't carry on a conversation, it was just small talk. Thoughts were running through my head, I was shaking, sweating and terrified. I wasn't comfortable and I thought there was a chance I would have to leave after talking to her. On August 15, 2014, I told my sister, the first person in my life, that I was gay. Everything has changed for me from that point on.

In the last 21 years of my life I have tried to live up to the expectations others had for me. I was living my life to make others happy even if that meant dying on the inside. I always had a smile on my face which seemed to do a hell of a job covering up the pain I was going through.

I am at the point in my life where I have realized a few things: 1) this is MY life; not one to be dictated by others. 2) I have control over my happiness. 3) God made me this way, I can't change who I am. With these few things being true, I no longer need to hide the fact that I am gay.

I grew up in Kimball, South Dakota, a small town with a population of about 750. Some people there tend to be close-minded, and the stereotypes they carry can be brutal. If you were to hear someone talk about the LGBT community, it was surely never positive. Sadly, I also said many things I am not proud of; I internalized homophobia because I wanted to distance myself from that part of my life. I have learned that sometimes people say these things because they simply don't know anyone who is gay or it has just become part of their vocabulary and they don't actually mean what they say.

At the time I believed everything I heard. When I was growing up these words stuck. I thought every negative thing I heard was how they actually felt about it and me. It got to the point where I thought I was a terrible person for having these feelings that I could not control. At a very young age I learned to hide these feelings out of fear that I would be labeled as the "gay kid."

I simply wanted to be "normal."

Being a Christian I turned to God for help. For the majority of my teenage years I looked to God and prayed for these feelings to just go away. I was raised Catholic. I was that "sin" I had learned about in church and religion classes. I constantly prayed to be straight, hoping that one day I would wake up and this would all be a dream. As I grew older I knew these feelings I had were never going away and I needed to start accepting myself for who I truly was. Although church is where I learned this is a "terrible sin," the church also taught me that God creates each and every one of us uniquely and he never makes mistakes; he has a plan for each and every one of us. Why would he create me this way and not love me? In the last couple of years my "make me straight" prayers transitioned to me praying for others to gain understanding and compassion.

In junior high and high school I excelled in football, basketball, and track. Plus, I killed it in the classroom. I worked hard in those aspects of my life in order to take my mind off of the struggles I was hiding. My father was my football coach in high school and I was the starting quarterback for four years. We were state runner-up my junior year - We were good. My senior year of track I placed second in the 110 hurdles at the state championship track meet. I started in basketball from eighth grade through my senior year. I stood out in basketball and it was my favorite sport. I hold every basketball career stat record for my high school.

For most people, these sound like great high school experiences and accomplishments, but none of those accomplishments made me feel that great about myself. Breaking a record didn't cover up the fact that I couldn't accept who I was.

For the longest time I didn't understand how I could be gay and be an athlete. I had never heard of a gay athlete growing up. I didn't think it was possible. People defined me as the "nice guy" who always had a smile on his face. Well-liked by everyone. Caring. Great athlete. You name it. Parents and teachers would tell me how great a role model I was for their kids and the younger students at my school...

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