Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Big Difference

I have always felt different. Part of this stems from being reared in a staunchly conservative Roman Catholic community. Growing up I never felt like I belonged. I knew from a young age I was gay, was devastated, but being accustomed to tragedy in my young life I accepted that I would not know a life that my friends and classmates would enjoy. I knew I would not have a high school sweetheart, I knew I would have difficulty with relationships and above all else I had a deep understanding that I would never be able to live the same life as I had known and loved as a young child. I longed to be the same.

When I went to university at the University of New Brunswick and joined the cross country team I suddenly belonged to something. I was now judged on my ability to tolerate a hard workout, my ability to out kick someone down to the line and my drive and determination to be 'the best I could be.' As part of the team I had a coach who was like a dad, team captains who were more like older brothers and teammates who became instant friends (once I got over my disabling shyness). For me the team became a new family. Over the years at university I went from being the shy younger brother to the older brother. I was entrusted by my coach Tim to lead the team both organizationally and by example as the team captain. It was a true honor to have that responsibility. I was known by the Varsity Athletes on campus and lived in one of the less used party houses, but it was still a party house! I belonged and was the same. I was a Varsity Athlete.

When I finally told my co-captain Andy and our friend Harrison that I was gay (after a particularly crazy night of wine tasting courtesy of his dad's home brew), the summer before my last year at UNB, my life changed. A weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was able to express myself openly. If a hot guy walked by I could now comment. I could joke with my teammates and they offered the same in return. But I now had a label and was different. No longer was I the runner guy, I became the gay dude. Although I was still running well and was captain of the team I felt different and had a new label to make me different.

I belong in the athletic milieu. I am an athlete. I have been raised to be a competitor and hard worker and every success I have has been through hard work and dogged determination. But I am different then 99% of the elite runners I compete against. To some in the athletics world I am aberrant and I am sure they would not support my running if they could choose. I have been fortunate to run and train with individuals who care more about me then labels. I have run in two university programs that pushed me to be a fast runner while understanding that I have a difference but that I should not necessarily be treated differently. I still know inside that I am different.

I have learned to love my difference. I have realized that I need to do what makes me happy rather then what gay 'society' shows as an example of how one should live. I am proud that I have been able to achieve my goals despite many pressures from outside sources to give up my passion to get a boyfriend (who would date someone who wears orange and blue socks or goes to bed at 9:00 the night before a race?). This does not negate the fact that I have lived most of my adult life as the only elite gay runner/triathlete I know, a somewhat lonely experience.

What happens when you meet a man who has the same lived experience? To spend the night talking with someone who knows what it is like to have the race of your life, party with your teammates yet still, when all is said and done, go home and lay in bed alone. Being with someone who does not need an explanation of what hurt really feels like, how good it can feel in a race or how it can send one to the depths of despair in loneliness. The joy of chatting with someone who in one breath can compare split times and strategy of a sub 1:10 half marathon while in the next the merits of circumcision. To be fortunate enough to meet someone who understands the total and complete love and devotion to something as irrational as sport who also knows the feeling of being different, of not belonging to either the gay or the athlete.

What happens when you meet a man who has the same lived experience? I am going to find out.

Today I ran my last tempo before my half marathon. I ran 10 minutes at regular sub threshold tempo pace with a last 5 minutes of up tempo running. My run felt good with a bit of fatigue from my weekend training. I was also really hungry before I left my place so that may have drained a little bit of my energy. I was really tired all day today, a bit of a hangover from the inspiring Coldplay concert!

Taper really hits tomorrow, day off!!!

Happy Training!

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