Forty Under 40: Sports
Natasha Kai | Soccer player | 26 | Kahuku, Hawaii
Instantly recognizable for the sleeve of tattoos on her right arm, Hawaiian soccer player Natasha Kai has also become known for her rebellious image and her intensity on the field. One of six children, Kai began her soccer career at age 7 in local leagues in Kahuku, on the island of Oahu. Nearly 20 years later, Kai has accomplished what most athletes only dream of -- winning an Olympic gold medal, hers at the 2008 games in Beijing. Playing as forward for the U.S. national team, she became a sensation on gay news sites last year after coming out during an interview with NBC.com.
Kai explained in that interview that a particularly stressful breakup with a girlfriend had nearly prevented her from making it onto the 2007 World Cup roster. She managed to get her head on "straight" just in time to make the team, though, and has gone on to become one of the world's most famous female athletes from Hawaii.
Andrew Langenfeld | Swimmer | 22 | Centralia, Ill.
Here are the numbers. At the 2009 Big Ten swimming championships, Purdue University's Andrew Langenfeld, 22, 6 foot 6, did the 50-meter freestyle in 19.34 seconds, breaking a record established in 2005. This new benchmark in the fastest race in men's swimming marked a resurgence for Langenfeld after some setbacks including an emergency appendectomy and a failed bid to swim alongside a certain other U.S. swimmer in Beijing. It was around the time of those Olympic trials that Langenfeld had his first taste of notoriety, when the press outed him to his grandparents and a few friends from home. Although initially blindsided, Langenfeld used the sudden exposure to launch his nonprofit, Our Group, aimed at supporting and connecting LGBT student athletes. "Within sports circles, things are usually about 10 years behind the rest of society," he says. Before entering Purdue (where he'll graduate in December), he dated a closeted swim teammate at West Virginia University; their breakup was so painful that he transferred. So what about London in 2012? The foreign-language student and theater buff (he's taught his teammates to hum show tunes) says, "If I can continue to swim well, it's definitely in the cards. I might stick it out -- but [three] years is a long time."