| ANDREW JOHNSON
That is one of the main reasons Dan Doremus, 37, is joining more than 10,000 athletes from around the world to compete at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland and Akron on August 9-16. Doremus, a swimmer and coach with the Columbus-based swim team Ohio Splash, will be joined by teammates Don Sgontz, Andrew Peppercorn and Rob Ellis.
The Games were designed to change the perception of gay athletes and promote global inclusiveness in sports. They are open to any athlete, regardless of sexual orientation, race, age, gender or religion. It’s that synergy that appeals to Doremus.
“Celebrating gays in sports is important to me because it’s an area where there is still marginalization,” he said, citing Michael
Sam, the first openly gay NFL player. “The fact that it’s in Cleveland, Ohio, in our backyard--there’s no way I could miss it.”
Though Doremus, who started swimming when he was 6 months old, is hoping to have personal best times in his events (50-meter and 100-meter freestyle as well as the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke), he is mostly looking forward to competing with his friends and teammates from Splash.
One of those newer swimmers is Sgontz, 52, who has been swimming for only six months and is competing in his first gay games. "I wanted to force myself to get in shape," he said.
Sgontz is approaching the Games with one clear goal in mind: "not to embarrass myself," adding that he is most looking forward to his 50 freestyle (he will also tackle the 100 freestyle and 50 breaststroke) because "it’s the one I know I can swim all out without dying."
Death hyperbole aside, he signed up because he wanted to be a part of what is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people. "I want to experience the whole thing, with all of the gays. I want to be part of the biggest sporting event in the world."
Echoing Sgontz's sentiments is Peppercorn, 36, who returned to swimming last year after a 17-year hiatus. "My work is very stressful. Swimming has changed my outlook on life," he said. "By having an hour, every night, six nights a week, where all you have to do is focus on swimming down the lane and back – it's truly a place of meditation of freedom. Until you've put on goggles and hopped in the water, you don't really understand what that's like."
Though it took some encouragement from a friend to sign up, he now realizes how necessary it was for him to compete. "I think it's important I can prove to myself that I can do this. Entering my late 30s, to be able to compete again with all groups from all walks of life is very exciting," he said. "More than anything else, just participating and being a part of history is reward enough."
Ellis, 59, shares his teammates' enthusiasm for meeting and competing against people from other countries. Unlike his teammates, however, he has elected to swim stamina events 400 meter, 800 meter and the 1500 freestyle, in which he says he has the best chance of winning a medal, as well as the 200 and 400 individual medley races.
Though he can't believe he's spending his vacation in Cleveland, he is glad to have his family and friends see him compete. "I've pressured my partner to come," he said, adding that his partner, Michael, is an organist for whom he has attended recitals, conventions and workshops. "He owes me."
It should be no surprise that the Ohio Splash teammates are excited to meet with a diverse group of people with various skill levels. It's what they know.
"Splash is always about the camaraderie. It's filled with a team of people who came from all walks of life, all different ages, all different skill levels, who somehow coalesce as a team and get along," Doremus said. "It has something for every type of swimmer, from someone who can barely make it to the other end of the pool to someone who swims five days a week. You don't have somebody excluded. We don't have an A or B division or rec league. We just have one team."
PHOTOS | ALLYSON FRIDLEY