I started triathlon about 5 years ago. I saw a video about Ironman athletes overcoming odds on YouTube and got inspired. I know how to swim, cycle and run so I thought I’d give it a try. I was terrified of swimming in open water though and I’m still not completely comfortable now, but somehow managed my fear and get it done! Swimming in a pack helps!
I’m part of an online Triathlon Club (Team MaccaX) started by former World Champ pro triathlete Chris McCormack. That platform allowed me to meet many triathletes from all over the world and make many wonderful friendships. I mostly just compete against myself for personal best timing in triathlon, as well as help raise funds for charity via IronProject. This is a group of triathletes in Singapore helping to raise funds for adopted charities by pledging an amount to every training hour hoping to inspire others to donate as well.
I’m out, but selectively. Only when I feel comfortable with someone. You can kind of pick up the vibes sometimes and if I’m not comfortable I would change the topic, because I’ll be wary of their intentions. But when I do come out, it is a liberating feeling every time and then you feel like there’re no barriers in between. That’s a wonderful feeling. There’s a chit-chat column within the MaccaX forum that let members interact and when I joined 2-3 years back, I’ve posted that I was gay. I wanted to make new friends in the triathlon circle that I can feel comfortable hanging out/training with.
Here in Singapore, gay sex is still illegal and punishable by law. There’s currently no law to protect the LGBT community from discrimination.
I try to make an effort to meet someone from Team MaccaX around the world whenever I fly to a particular city. Those who eventually met up with me are cool with me. E.g. Tim from Sydney loves to joke around with me with gay comments all the time, all in good fun. This way, I’ve made many friends from training camps and doing races together with them. Through all these relationships you also find out about their personal relationship between them and someone they know who is gay as well, be it a sibling or friend.
I also train under my coach Shem Leong from IronGuides in Singapore and he supports me 100%. I can’t stress the importance of having a coach whom you trust and whom you’re comfortable with. Here in Singapore, gay sex is still illegal and punishable by law. There’s currently no law to protect the LGBT community from discrimination. But hate crimes are rare here and I feel safe, nonetheless with someone like my coach and the guys at IronProject I feel that they’ve got my back.
I never really got bullied, but I’ve had someone in a running group say to me I run like a girl. I laughed it off. I think that’s my defense mechanism, to defuse rather than confront.
But the guys I hang out and train with in Singapore (IronProject) support me, I love hanging out and training with them. I can’t speak for the sport as a whole, whether it is tolerant or not. It is quite a unique sport as you can be as involved in a club as you want or go solo. You can join a swim club, cycling group, a running group, or you can train alone.
As for Team MaccaX, being an online triathlon club that opens you access to hundreds of members worldwide, and a very active facebook group had allowed me to make friends who are supportive of me being gay and out. I also came out to one of the coaches Belinda whom I met in Phuket (Thailand) at one of the training camps and she was very cool. She even said she’ll help me find a hot triathlete boyfriend… though she still hasn’t come back to me about that. ☺
I can’t stress the importance of having a coach whom you trust and whom you’re comfortable with.
It’s never easy coming out, be it in a team or individual sport. I think the dynamics of a team sport makes it harder for one as there are so many other people that come into play in the sport with whom you work closely with. You may have teammates who are supportive and some who aren’t quite so, I think that makes its tough. In that situation I would probably talk to the coach first.
Triathlon is an individual sport ultimately, if you choose to do all 3 disciplines yourself (swim/bike/run). So I don’t see any issues arising from that, just go out and do it. However, I think some form of media coverage on LGBT triathletes by the big names of the industry would greatly help to get more who are afraid to jump in to do so. Also, I don’t know of any transgender athletes in my current club. There hasn’t been any coverage that I know of in the media of a transgender triathlete unfortunately.
I think the people in charge of sports clubs, and coaches are very important in setting a friendly, all inclusive environment for all athletes. But you don’t necessarily have to join any club, just go out, train and race! There are so many online resources and training programs. My advice is to find a coach that you are comfortable with and trust him/her to help you achieve your goals.
I’ve had someone in a running group say to me I run like a girl. I laughed it off. I think that’s my defense mechanism, to defuse rather than confront.
I don’t make a living as a professional triathlete, so I can’t imagine the kind of pressure a pro would have since their livelihood depends heavily on sponsorship. I don’t have any sponsors, but I wish I had, because this sport is expensive! Yet, I am a brand ambassador for Fusion Sports UK, and they are very supportive of me doing this.
I look up to Ian Thorpe, Tom Daley, Siri Lindley, I think they are so brave! To come out to the whole world, the media and all,… I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through and I’m totally inspired. Also, I noticed a movement of professional athletes coming out and getting accepted and I think that is awesome. However, I hope more step out, in more sports. We need more role models and I applaud what OFTW are doing as well. When I was a young athlete, I was so scared. I wished I had someone tell me everything will be ok, that you will learn to be comfortable in your own skin and that you will find friends who love you for you.
So don’t be afraid to be you, stick by those who love you for who you are, and always look on the positive side of any situation.
Follow Craig’s journey on Instagram: @craigtoh
More info on IronProject: www.ironproject.wordpress.com