In life, we can stare at obstacles for decades. We can stand there completely consumed with fear — afraid that even attempting to overcome them could be worse than the long, debilitating vigil that slowly evolves into our comfortable “normal”. For more than 30 years I stood staring at my obstacle and I let fear define me. For 30 years I hid the fact I was gay.
There’s no small irony that the greatest shame of my life comes as a result of my fear of being shamed. Regret (for so many wasted years) and guilt (for lying to so many friends and family) are my new obstacles and, to be completely honest, I’m still not entirely sure I’ll be keeping my band in this race. While I’m out on course though, I have to believe I can define my own positive legacy.
Growing up, I rarely doubted what I was feeling. What confused the hell out of me was where I fit in. I didn’t identify with anyone I saw in the media. In fact, even after coming out, I often met other gay men who told me I was too “straight” to be one of them.
10 years ago, around the same time I was coming to terms with my own sexuality, Brendan Burke was going public with his own. Brendan was the son of prominent hockey personality Brian Burke and the student manager at Miami University for the RedHawks men’s hockey team. I thought his father represented everything that drove me away from my own hockey career.
Locker rooms were never a welcome place for me. In my late teens I found it all too overwhelming and hung up my skates for more than a decade. Now, here was this trailblazer I could identify with stepping forward to call out the homophobia that had ended both of our playing careers. And, there was his father directing all the “truculence and tenacity” he had so famously demanded from his players towards supporting his son. It was a game changer for me. When Brendan died in a car accident a few short weeks later it was a tragedy.
In the decade since his death my own life has transformed. Obstacle course racing has played a huge role in redefining my relationship with fear. OCR has changed my mind, body and spirit. It’s taught me that the best way to overcome obstacles is to run straight at them. Its community exemplifies the best of humanity all the way from first-time racers to the very elite.
In my 5 years competing, I’ve had the privilege of coming to know athletes from around the world. And so many of those friends have been accepting and welcoming. Working with the LegendBorne family has hammered that truth home. That said, fear has always played a pivotal role in my life. And while I may have been “out” to friends and family, the idea of being defined by my sexuality to a wider world has (and will always) scare the shit out of me. When LegendBorne offered to design a charity jersey for me last fall, I knew it was time to take a run at that fear.
In Brendan’s memory, the Burke family had founded an organization in 2012 called the You Can Play Project.. You Can Play first made headway in partnership with the National Hockey League and has since expanded to work with multiple leagues aiming to eliminate homophobia in sports. If there was ever a charity I could identify with, You Can Play was it. And, if there was ever an opportunity to reach out to young people struggling the same way I had for so many years it was time to suit up. The bonus? 15% of sales from the jersey would go to You Can Play’s work.
I’ve had the privilege of wearing the Canadian flag on my shoulder at the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships. This year, along with the You Can Play logo on my chest, I’ve worn the rainbow flag on my sleeve. I’m not going to lie. Stepping into venues and onto courses wearing those colors hasn’t come without jitters. There have been some double-takes for sure. Most reactions have been positive. Some not so much.
I’d like to think some of those double-takes are from people thinking twice though. I enjoy breaking stereotypes and I love the idea that somewhere in the crowd there may be someone who can identify with me the way I identified with Brendan.
I will not let my sexuality define who I am. But, I would like to be defined by my willingness to run directly at the bigotry and hate that poisoned my life for so many years. Thanks to this sport and its incredible community, those are two obstacles I know we can alI overcome.
by: LegendBorne and You Can Play Ambassador Sean
Follow all his adventures (and handsome dog Blitzen) on Instagram @lonewolf.ocr
Support You Can Play by purchasing a jersey from LegendBorne.com/You-Can-Play