Retired Canadian Olympian swimmer Martha McCabe revealed she is a lesbian in an interview with CBC Sports. She says she hopes that by coming out she can provide the type of strong and proud LGBTQ+ role model she never had growing up.
"Young people need to be able to see themselves in the people they look up to," McCabe told CBC. "We need minority voices from different races, sexualities, gender identities, etc. — people bold enough to speak out, to share and to be themselves publicly so that younger generations can see they are not alone, and that you can be successful despite your differences.”
McCabe, 30, spoke frankly about the struggles of coming to terms with her sexuality within the environment of competitive swimming.
"Sure, I probably knew a couple of lesbians outside of swimming,” she told CBC. “But I was barely paying attention to my life outside of swimming.”
McCabe specialized in the 200-meter breaststroke. She won a bronze medal in that event at the 2011 World Championships and placed fifth at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
In her interview, McCabe describes an early life that existed almost entirely within the world of competitive swimming. The one thing missing at that time was a role model.
"The people I looked up to were in swimming,” McCabe explained. “The people I was constantly surrounded by and giving my full attention to were in swimming. I think if there was an out lesbian within that circle, someone I could have potentially looked up to, it would have been normalized a little bit more.
The only LGBTQ+ role model for McCabe at the time was gay Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist for the 100-meter breaststroke. Tewksbury came out publicly in 1998. Tewksbury's public revelation was important for McCabe at the time, she says, but she couldn't help but notice a lack of lesbians in competitive swimming to whom she could look for affirmation.
"I think because there haven't really been any superstars in the sport publicly come out as lesbian and advocate for women in the LGBTQ+ space, it makes it more challenging to realize these things about yourself," McCabe said.
The retired Olympian hopes that by sharing her story publicly, other closeted girls and women will have the presence of an out swimmer.
"I want to be an example to young female swimmers and help ones who are struggling with this, so they can see it's normal," McCabe revealed.