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Just me and nobody else

Just me and nobody else


Out figure skater Stephane Vachon reveals how he turned a life full of shame and disappointment into one of peace and victory.

As kids, we all have dreams. Wanting to be a figure skater and being gay is not an easy thing to do. I gave up my dream in my teenage years because of what other people thought of me. Today I realize my dreams. I have finally learned to embrace who I am without any shame. I can also finally celebrate the talent and the qualities that were given to me without having to feel bad about it. It has been a really hard journey. Because I can say that today I am finally happy with who I am, I would like to share my story with you.

I have received many responses at my Web site from gay men saying that my story inspired them to follow their dreams. I really think it could help many more. To me, it is a great reward to be able to help other gay men to believe in themselves.

Thanks for reading my story...

At a young age I discovered my first love: figure skating. At 9 years old, I realized I had a great talent in this sport when I won my first provincial competition by a wide margin. At that time I really thought I could go far, and that became my biggest dream.

But growing up in my hometown near Quebec City, things began to change. Kids started laughing at me, teasing me constantly and calling me names--even within my own family. For me, a normal day was: Waiting for the bus to school, my brother would tell the other kids to stay away from me because I was a fag, and on the bus nobody would give me room to sit. In school between classes I would hide in the bathroom, and during class I would try to stay silent as much as possible, because each time I spoke kids would call me fag and other names. I learned to shut up and feel ashamed of who I was and even started to think I should just die. I pretended that nothing was bothering me and kept this big sad secret for myself, because I was too embarrassed to talk to anybody about it.

As I got older I lost all the confidence I had in myself. Shame and guilt became normal in my day-to-day life. It really showed through my skating. Even though I made it to the nationals, I saw all the other skaters on television and me sitting at home watching them... I finally gave up my dream and quit my competitive career at 17.

I had to escape to look for peace. I quit school and started touring with ice shows and teaching figure skating on a show. I went from one country to another looking for happiness. I discovered drugs, sex, circuit parties, and alcohol. I went from bad relationships to worse ones, feeling more and more alone and unhappy. I spent all my money on parties, clothes, and anything that I thought would make me feel better about myself. I thought by traveling around the world and living a wild party life I could leave behind all that shame and guilt weighing on my heart. I could not.

The years went by. In my early 30s, I had enough of telling people I had anything to do with skating. I put my skates in the closet for good. Every time somebody asked me what I did for a living, I would make sure to change the subject.

I had to change careers. I went back to school and got a degree in graphic design. Looking back, I really don't know how I did it considering I just wanted to die and was on drugs all the time. I loved my new career, but I didn't feel any happier, and my soul was getting emptier and emptier. I even took steroids to make myself feel better about my appearance. I thought I had to be the best-looking man at the party in order to be happy...

Then I met a really special person, and one condition of being with him was no drugs. I quit consuming everything for him even though I didn't want to at the time. Today I am proud to say that I have been sober for more than three years.

But a year ago, with nothing to freeze my brain and numb my emotions, I finally had to look inside myself and face all of the bad feelings that I had stored deep down inside for so long. I fell into a deep depression. For months just getting out of bed was the hardest thing to do each day. I could not make myself something to eat, and I was too scared to get out of the house. Luckily, through therapy, my wonderful friends in my support groups, and the unconditional support of my lover, I was eventually able to get through it.

Six months ago, when I was just starting to feel a bit better, my therapist ordered me to put my skates on and go for a ride on the ice. I will remember that day my whole life. I knew then that I had a mission--to get back on the ice no matter what. I had found a reason to live again. That was when I finally understood and allowed myself to be who I had always wanted to be: only me and nobody else.

I went on to win a gold medal at the Adult Championships in Charlottetown, Canada, in March; first place at the Mountain Cup in Villard-de-Lans, France, in June; and first place at the ISU International Adult Competition in Oberstdorf, Germany, also in June. And what I have to say is that it is not even about winning but about being able to just skate with peace in my heart.

But it has not been easy at all. I put up my own Web site, got a few sponsors, and worked really hard at getting back in shape at the age of 36--and all that without revenue or a job for more than a year now. I sent over 5,000 propositions and portfolios throughout my city and country for sponsorships to help me get to these competitions. I got maybe 30 responses, most of them negative, and some of them not nice at all, like this one from a gay hotel in Quebec City: "If I have not responded to you, it is certainly because I am not at all interested, so please could you stop bothering me with your request! I believe that there are more important things in life than an athletic career!"

I contacted many sports clothing companies in Canada asking them to sponsor me with a jacket with the name of my country on the back. I got no response but one, after calling many times, from Roots Canada. They sent me a discount card for 10% off one regularly priced item. They wanted me to spend money at their store, but unfortunately that would not help me save money for my expensive trip.

I asked newspapers and television stations in Montreal to help publicize my Web site for sponsorships and donations. One newspaper in Montreal told me that they would rather talk about hockey and that the e-mail I sent them sounded too desperate. Most of the others did not bother to respond at all, except for one that I really want to thank: Fugues magazine.

Two weeks before my scheduled departure I was still short $2,000 for my competitions in Europe. One sponsor had gone I don't know where, and another one had changed his mind after making me wait for over two months. Somebody I knew promised me a big sponsorship from his brother, an owner of a restaurant chain. But after three months of waiting for the meeting and being told it would be next week or tomorrow, I was called a disappointment because I finally had enough of the lying and started asking questions about it.

Of course, there weren't just bad experiences. I was just about to give up when you guys from The Advocate helped me! With your help I got close to $600 in donations. With another $250 from an old sponsor and help from several friends, I was able to make it! Yves Jean Lacasse from Envers also sponsored me by designing my wonderful costume.

Today I am back from my competitions with $35 in my bank account and still no job. But you know what? I am so proud of myself for not giving up on my dreams, and I will never stop believing in them again, no matter what anybody else says. I am working now on starting my own graphic design enterprise, and I just want to keep skating more and more! And I can honestly tell you that today I have never been happier in my life!

I try to live my day-to-day life as best I can. Today, I choose to live my life spiritually. I try to be authentic and honest in everything that I do. Feeling a sense of peace in my mind helps my body feel good as well. I do volunteer work at support groups for drug addicts and alcoholics, which gets me back to reality and the essential things in life. I am also cleaning up the negative energy I used to surround myself with (as well as the negative people!) and I am moving toward positive achievements. Every day I take care of both my body and my soul by doing things I love: meditating, reading a good book on spirituality, and trying to enjoy every second of the present moment.

The most important thing for me is to allow myself to be who I always wanted to be: just me and nobody else!

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Stephane Vachon