Canadian swimmer Markus Thormeyer, who competed in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay team in the 2016 Olympics, just came out of the closet.
Thormeyer, now 22, shared his coming out story in an emotional essay for OutSports. In it, he recalls the shame of hiding his sexuality from his teammates.
“Creating these intimate bonds with my teammates was amazing, but it also made me feel guilty at the same time.” he 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 then goes on to explain that he feared rejection from the team should he ever open up about being gay. He feared hostility from his teammates, or that he would lose a shot at competing in the Olympics.
“I didn’t want to take that chance, so I kept my walls up and generally avoided talks about sexuality and dating.”
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That stress eventually took its toll on Thormeyer led to an emotional breakdown, and forced him to come out to his teammates. Thankfully, they welcomed him without judgment.
“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…There was no drama and it was exactly what I wanted.”
Thormeyer also says his swimming improved after coming out.
“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.”
Since coming out, Thormeyer has gone on to win the gold in the 200-meter backstroke and bronze in the 100-meter backstroke in the FINA Champions Swim Series in China. Ultimately, Markus decided to share his story to offer comfort to other athletes, and encourage them to come out too.
“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.”