BY: SHAYLA DVORAK
Near the end of college, and the end of my collegiate rowing career, two things were becoming quite clear in my mind. One was that organized sport as I’d known it for most of my life was about to change drastically. The second was that my idea of who I was in terms of my sexuality was shifting.
I took up running around the same time. In high school I had been a sprinter and I had played sports like basketball and volleyball but through college, I began realizing that maybe I was more of an endurance athlete. As my attitudes and ideas about myself started to shift, I found that running was a place to organize my thoughts. Sport, for me, has always been a way to define myself, but I was quickly learning that it would also be a way for me to recognize myself in the world.
I had always thought of myself as a bit of a feminist, even before I had the word for it. I decided at a young age that I could do anything boys could do. I competed against the boys in phys-ed class and held my head high in the classroom. But when the idea that I might love another woman popped into my head, at first there was confusion, and then shame.
I tried to understand it all by consuming as much “queer” material as possible. From academic books for my major to every single available episode of The L Word, I was unstoppable. And I ran. I ran with the learning and I ran to work through my confusion and excitement and shame and pride.
The end of college is supposed to be the time when a person discovers herself. It is all about change and that was true for me, too. Not only was I about to say goodbye to being a full-time student and athlete, but I was also beginning to say hello to the idea that I didn’t fit into some sort of pre-prescribed box. It was difficult and I struggled, but the running was and has always been the thing that helped. At first, I struggled to name what I was feeling and later, and since, I’ve struggled with defining myself. I remember telling my first friends and the opening up was swollen with emotion. I was afraid to be rejected and afraid to be misunderstood, but those first friends who I came out to did and remain to be the ones who couldn’t care less about who I love - they are the ones who care, first and foremost, that I’m loved. They were my teammates and they are my sisters - even now.
First, I ran to stay in shape, but I quickly realized that running offered more for me. On the road, I was able to talk about myself and the person I was becoming even more than ever before. On the trails and roads, rarely does a person ask whether you’re gay or straight. You get to prove yourself by what you accomplish and you get to define yourself.
What I’ve realized over the years is that it’s not so much about what other people think - it’s about owning who I am. It’s about owning up to what is true in my heart. It’s about constantly being brave enough to take the next step and about continually, no matter how small the progress, being brave and continuing to push myself to own my truth.
When I began running, it was hard and I kept reminding myself that I was a work in progress. When I found the Oiselle community the phrase that stuck with me was, “There is no secret. Keep going.” When it comes to coming out, to living out, I’m constantly reminded of the same - to take things one day at a time and to keep living out, one interaction at a time. I’m so grateful for the people in my life who remind me of that each day. To be me and to keep going.