In November, 2020, I did one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. In this social media post, I came out as gay.
I think I’ve known I was gay since college, but I fought it for a long time. I already fell into one minority group having lost my leg to cancer, and I guess I didn’t want there to be one more thing to make me different. Even as I began to accept this piece of my identity, I was ambivalent toward the idea of coming out publicly. On the one hand, it felt like something I shouldn’t be obligated to do. While my sexuality is a part of me, it’s certainly not the most significant part. I didn’t want to make a big deal about being gay because in the grand scheme of who I am, it’s not a big deal.
(It’s my hope that one day people won’t feel like they have to “come out” as we know it, because acceptance of differences in sexuality is the norm. And for the record, I think we’re close to this being the case.)
But the reality is, we’re not there yet. And in our current world, if you’re a gay professional athlete who’s not publicly out, you’re hiding something.
And let me tell you, hiding a part of yourself is exhausting. The weight of that burden is not unlike the weight of a chronically high training load. When you carry it around long enough, fatigue becomes your baseline, and you stop noticing how much effort you’re using just to stay afloat. You get really good at convincing yourself that everything is fine, ignoring that extra edge of irritability or the racing mind that keeps you up at night. And so you power through, believing you’re doing what’s best, until one day you wake up and realize you can’t possibly spend one more second pedaling your bike … or pretending to be someone you’re not.
This is where I found myself in November. It had been months in the making, but I was finally able to admit to myself that the weight of hiding was too heavy to continue carrying. I decided I had too much to offer this world, and the energy I was using to filter myself needed to be devoted to greater things.
That was when I decided to share the most difficult — and most liberating — thing I had ever written.
Nine U.S. elite triathletes training for the postponed Tokyo Paralympic and Olympic Games, along with USA Triathlon CEO Rocky Harris, will cycle a combined 483 miles across the state of Colorado starting Friday, June 19, in a 24-hour relay challenge dubbed “Operation CO>COVID.”
The ride, which is supported by Toyota vehicles, was fully planned and executed by members of the Toyota U.S. Paratriathlon Resident Team including Kyle Coon, Hailey Danz, Kendall Gretsch, Allysa Seely, Melissa Stockwell and Howie Sanborn (Sanborn will not participate in the ride due to injury). The squad normally trains out of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, but the training center’s athletic facilities have been closed since mid-March due to COVID-19.
The event is designed to drive awareness and donations for the USA Triathlon Foundation, which will then distribute proceeds equally between two causes: the USA Triathlon Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund, which provides grants to members of the multisport community impacted by the pandemic, and the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. Donations are being accepted at usatriathlonfoundation.org. The team has set a goal to raise $20,210 in reference to the postponed Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will take place in 2021.
In addition to the paratriathlon resident team and Harris, participants in the challenge also include U.S. Olympic hopefuls Kevin McDowell and Renée Tomlin; up-and-coming 17-year-old paratriathlete Jack O’Neil; and elite triathlete Alex Libin. Libin will serve as a sighted guide for Kyle Coon, who is visually impaired.
“The Tokyo postponement left us all wanting to do something to both test ourselves physically and to give back to the community,” said Stockwell, a U.S. Army veteran and Team Toyota athlete who won a bronze medal in paratriathlon’s debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. “The idea to ride our bikes 483 miles across the state of Colorado accomplished both. Instead of racing in Tokyo, we will be racing the sun to finish our ride before sundown and raising money to give back to the community for COVID-19 relief. We look forward to completing these miles as a team and making a small difference.”
“Our paratriathlon resident team came up with Operation CO>COVID as a unique challenge for themselves, but more importantly, because they wanted to give back to our community during this unprecedented time,” Harris, CEO of USA Triathlon, said. “I am incredibly proud to ride alongside this group of individuals who, even when faced with the disappointment and uncertainty of an Olympic and Paralympic Games postponement, are still motivated to support others whose livelihoods have been threatened due to COVID-19.”
“It’s incredible to see the Toyota U.S. Paratriathlon Resident Team come together for such a great cause,” said Dedra DeLilli, group manager, Toyota Olympic and Paralympic Marketing. “We’re inspired by the athletes’ motivation to go above and beyond to create a positive impact for both the multisport community and the local community where they train. We can’t wait to follow the team’s ride, and our Toyota employees all over the country will be cheering them on.”
The ride will cover 483 miles in total distance, gaining nearly 23,000 feet of elevation as it extends from the Utah-Colorado state line in Montrose, Colorado, to the Colorado-Kansas state line at U.S. 40 and CR 57 (near the town of Arapahoe, Colorado). The route travels from the Western Slope up into the Rocky Mountains, cresting Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet of elevation before descending into the Front Range via Colorado Springs and into the Eastern Plains. To view the complete route, click here.
Athletes will be divided into three teams of three, with each person covering up to four different segments ranging from 3-15 miles at a time. The first riders will begin cycling from the Utah-Colorado state line in the evening (exact time TBD) on Friday, June 19, with a goal to be at the Colorado-Kansas state line 24 hours later on Saturday, June 20.
Toyota support vehicles will transport the rest of the athletes and their gear along the route, stopping to swap riders after each segment. The athletes must collectively maintain an average of 21 miles per hour in order to successfully cross the state within 24 hours.
All riders are available for interviews leading up to the event date, and photos and video b-roll of athletes are available upon request.
Interviews, video and photo opportunities are possible during the ride itself but must be requested and coordinated in advance, as the relay is continuous and transport vans will be in motion throughout the day.
For all in-person coverage, members of the media must wear masks and maintain six feet of distance from athletes and support staff.
To request interviews or media materials, please contact Caryn Maconi, USA Triathlon Communications Manager, at email@example.com or 443-534-5954.
About the USA Triathlon Foundation The USA Triathlon Foundation was created in 2014 by the USA Triathlon Board of Directors as an independent tax-exempt 501(c)(3) entity. Under the leadership of its Trustees and Committee members, the Foundation serves as a means to create a healthier America through triathlon and seeks to transform lives by opening up new pathways to the sport for all, especially those who are otherwise underserved. The USA Triathlon Foundation operates with the belief that every child should have the chance to participate, every paratriathlete should have the opportunity to compete, and every aspiring elite athlete should be able to chase his or her Olympic dream. Since the Foundation’s inception, more than $3 million has been provided to worthy causes and organizations that support its mission. Donations to the USA Triathlon Foundation ensure America’s youth are introduced to the benefits and fun of a multisport lifestyle, athletes with disabilities receive the training, support and gear to be able to participate and excel, and the best aspiring young athletes have a chance to pursue their Olympic Dreams. Visit usatriathlonfoundation.org to learn more and donate today.
About USA Triathlon USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of the ITU and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). – usatriathlon.org –