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The annual Ironman in Kona, Hawaii is not a race for the faint of heart. Over the course of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike race, and 26.2 mile run (that's a marathon on that leg alone), athletes push themselves nearly - and sometimes beyond - their breaking points. The preparation for such a physically and mentally demanding race is time-consuming and intense. By immersing himself in training for the 2007 October Ironman, athlete Thomas James was able to ignore the secret that had been eating him up inside: the 40-something divorced father was a closeted gay man. James wrote an essay for Outsports about his journey to come out, and how that race changed his life forever.
James says he started running triathlons after his divorce. Training for him provided structure and purpose, and the intense exercise was a natural stress relief. He applied to be one of the 150 domestic Iroman lottery athletes for the 2007 race, and says being selected was "luckier than getting a Willy Wonka golden ticket. A miracle."
His training began as a way to distract himself, but as he continued, James gained clarity and perspective. "Out running mile after mile, one of the questions I finally had the sanity to ask myself was, 'What's the worst thing that could happen by telling the truth?'" he recalls, adding, "I didn't have a good answer."
"As I waded into the Pacific before the gun went off along with the other 1,835 athletes, I felt like the luckiest man alive. This sport made me realize that it just didn't matter if I was gay or straight and that I'm no different and certainly no less of an athlete. Or less of a father. Or less of a friend. Crossing that finish line in Kona was the challenge of a lifetime but nothing compared to the challenge and terror of 'coming out' at 40. But I accomplished both, and don't think I could have done one without the other.