If com­ing out helped, ‘it’s worth it’

Waterloo Region Record - - Sports - LORI EWING

GANGEUNG — Among the mes­sages Eric Rad­ford has re­ceived at the Pyeongchang Olympics is one from a mother from his tiny home­town of Balmer­town, Ont.

“She told me her daugh­ter had come out to her, and she wanted to thank me for set­ting a great ex­am­ple,” Rad­ford said.

The Cana­dian fig­ure skater be­came the first openly gay man to win an Olympic gold medal Mon­day. And if he’s ever ques­tioned his de­ci­sion to come out af­ter the 2014 Sochi Games, it’s those raw and hon­est mes­sages that make Rad­ford proud.

“I have had some re­ally touch­ing mes­sages from peo­ple who are still in the closet, and they said that I’ve re­ally in­spired them, and helped them to try to ac­cept them­selves more ... that’s in­cred­i­ble,” Rad­ford said.

“I look at my own story. When I was a kid in a small town grow­ing up, fig­ure skater, hockey town, it sucked. It was hard. And not only not be­ing ac­cepted by other peo­ple, but there was a long time where I didn’t ac­cept my­self. And I think that I just look at that, and if I had some­one like that to look up to it would have been eas­ier. And that’s what I want to be to other peo­ple.”

Rad­ford is a two-time world cham­pion with pairs part­ner Mea­gan Duhamel. They were sched­uled to skate for an in­di­vid­ual medal in the free pro­gram Thurs­day in what was likely to be their fi­nal com­pe­ti­tion.

Cana­dian swim­mer Mark Tewks­bury didn’t have that some­one to look up to when he won Olympic gold at the ’92 Barcelona Olympics. He came out six years later, and sub­se­quently lost a lu­cra­tive con­tract as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker.

“I guess for me it’s a great per­spec­tive-giver,” Tewks­bury said of Rad­ford’s gold. “Some­times in my life I might look back and think ‘Oh, I wish I was braver. I wish I could have come out when I won.’ And now I’m like, ‘Oh, I would have been 26 years ahead of my­self.’ No won­der I didn’t. I would have been too far out of sync with time and the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, and where so­ci­ety was at.

“For me, it is re­ally cool that this has hap­pened. It is a marker in time.”

Amer­i­can diver Greg Louga­nis is a four-time Olympic gold medal­list, but didn’t come out un­til eight years af­ter win­ning double gold in ’88 in Seoul. And U.S. fig­ure skater Brian Boi­tano, who won gold at the ’88 Games in Cal­gary, didn’t come out un­til he was named to the United States del­e­ga­tion to the 2014 Win­ter Olympics in Sochi.

“It’s sad,” said Rad­ford. “But I feel like the winds are chang­ing, and this Games has the most out ath­letes ever, and it’s nice to be a part of that.”

Rad­ford is 33 with salt-and­pep­per hair, and at six-foot-two, paints an im­pres­sive pic­ture along­side the power-packed four­foot-10 Duhamel.

He’s en­gaged to Span­ish ice dancer Luis Fen­ero. He pro­posed to Fen­ero last sum­mer in Spain, writ­ing that day in an In­sta­gram post: “Life with him is sim­ple and beau­ti­ful.”

Life used to be painful. Peo­ple could be ugly. Rad­ford, who fell in love with the sport watch­ing Nancy Ker­ri­gan’s free skate at the ’92 Olympics, has been open about the bul­ly­ing he faced grow­ing up Balmer­town, one of six tiny com­mu­ni­ties that make up Red Lake, with a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of about 4,100.

He’d have to push past taunt­ing kids that blocked his en­trance at the video store.

He left home at 13 to bil­let with a skat­ing fam­ily in Kenora, Ont. He moved to Win­nipeg at 14, Mon­treal at 15, and Toronto at 16.

Rad­ford sought so­lace on the ice.

“Skat­ing was al­ways there, what­ever was hap­pen­ing at school, what­ever was hap­pen­ing at home, it was just a con­stant in my life,” he said. “I re­mem­ber once I came out to my mom, and it was a cou­ple days later, and she came in and she was weepy and she said, ‘You turned out so well de­spite go­ing through all of that, I wish you had told us sooner so I could have been there for you’... I re­ally was kind of on my own.”


Mea­gan Duhamel and Eric Rad­ford com­pete in the pairs fig­ure skat­ing short pro­gram Wed­nes­day.

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