I started rowing when I was 16. Mum and dad both rowed and my younger brother had just started, so I decided to give it a try too. I never wanted to row when I was younger, but when I did start I enjoyed it immediately. I really love being on the water and the technical aspect of it. Rowing is a very technical sport and I like being able to fine-tune my technique, looking for that elusive perfect stroke. On top of that, fitness and strength are very important factors too, so it’s a really good all-round sport.
I came out when I was about 21-22, first to my friends and family and afterwards to teammates. My older brother and mum were the first two people who knew. I told them as we were driving in the car, on separate occasions and about ten months apart. The first friends I told were a couple of months later when I was having a few drinks at a party the night I was named in the Olympic team for London.
After I told a few of my closest friends and teammates, word of mouth did the rest for me. There were an awkward few months when I didn’t know who knew and who didn’t, And I think they felt a bit the same not knowing if they were supposed to know or whether or not to say anything. After a while I pretty much realized everyone knew and no one cared. Ironically it’s a bit of an anti-climax after building it up to be such a big deal in your head for such a long time. I didn’t have any negative reactions. I realise that not everyone is so lucky, but I’m very fortunate to have very accepting friends, family and teammates.
It became more public two or three years later when I did a story for Outsports, I must have been 25 then. There are multiple reasons why I decided to come out. To my friends and teammates, so that I can just be myself. Publicly, to hopefully help break down the perceived barriers for other gay athletes and help someone who might be in the same position I once was.
After a while I pretty much realized everyone knew and no one cared. Ironically it’s a bit of an anti-climax after building it up to be such a big deal in your head for such a long time.
Before I came out I was most afraid of how my teammates would react. Which proved to be an unfounded fear. I have never really had any personal sponsorship, and I never thought that coming out would affect my ability to get sponsorship in a negative way, if anything it is a point of difference which could appeal to potential sponsors. Also, I think as an individual you don’t have to worry about how your teammates will react, but if you do have teammates and they react well then that can be a big support, there’s probably more riding on how your peers will react if you’re in a team sport.
There are other gay rowers I know of at club level and around the world and I have rowed with a small number of people at different levels who had a later coming out. To my club and coach it has never been an issue. Rowing is such an accepting sport and I think sport in general is heading very much in that direction.
In terms of being a gay athlete there were no differences in the Olympics of 2012 and 2016 I’ve never faced any sort of problem being a gay athlete. But obviously there were more openly gay athletes in Rio as it becomes less stigmatised to come out publicly.
I remember watching the men’s 10m platform diving in Beijing on tv, Matt Mitcham won and Tom Daley was also competing. Shortly after I think I read somewhere that Matthew Mitcham was gay and thought that, that was pretty cool. I got to meet Matt in London! And I always admired Tom Daley too, before and after he came out. I met Tom in Rio with the Olympics this year. Other than that, speed skater Blake Skjellerup (also from NZ) was one of only a few other gay athletes I knew of before I came out. Now there are so many which is great.
I wished that as a young athlete I would have got the message that being gay doesn’t change who you are, it’s no where near as big of a deal to everyone else as it is to you. Just be yourself.