What does it truly mean to be yourself?
I guess some people may define themselves by the things they feel or know they cannot change about themselves – their preferences, what makes them laugh, what attracts them to the world.
As I get older and experience more, I catch myself learning more and more about who I am.
A new experience teaches me that I actually really love something I never would have imagined or expected.
It’s safe to say that when I was a kid growing up in the small mining community of Red Lake, Ontario I hardly knew who I was.
But I definitely had a dream of who I wanted to be.
Seeing figure skating on TV reminded me of flying and the Olympic spirit lit up something inside me that I couldn’t even understand at that age.
Fast forward 25 years and now I have three Olympic medals that belong to me. I do appreciate my success, the strength and perseverance I showed through my career, and especially the friends I made along my journey.
But looking back, some of the most important things I learned were simple realizations of who I am.
I’m fiercely competitive, analytical, and empathetic.
Being kind to others invigorates me. I have a deep fear of failure and of disappointing people. Sometimes we may learn something about ourselves we don’t want to accept.
When I started to sense I might be gay I did everything I could to fight it.
I promised myself I would never give in to what I was feeling.
Of course, I never could get rid of what was feeling and over time, with the love of my family and friends, I accepted my sexuality and myself.
The feeling of freedom, comfort, and confidence that accompanied that self-acceptance also spilled into how I felt while I was on the ice.
My skating partner and I had a newfound attitude and confidence where we placed less importance on what other people were thinking of us and focused on becoming the best team we could be.
This feeling carried us through an undefeated season and onto winning our first world championship title. Winning that title felt amazing, but that glory was short lived.
The feeling of being comfortable in my own skin, however, is something I feel every day. And when you think about it, is there any better feeling than just being yourself and not caring what others might be thinking of you?
There are those who might ask what sexuality, race or even religion has to do with sport.
What does it matter that an athlete is gay or not? Being gay was not in my mind while standing on the ice and waiting for my music to start at the Olympics.
But the fact that in that moment I didn’t have any fear or concern about being myself is what the Olympic movement embodies and is a shining example of how sport unites people from many different backgrounds.
I add my story to the LGBTQ+ athletes who broke barriers and paved the way before me in hopes that they might inspire a younger generation to celebrate not only our successes, but also our differences.
Take a deep breath, enjoy the moment and know we believe in who you are.
Eric Radford is a two-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medallist in figure skating, including gold in the team event and bronze in the pairs event at PyeongChang 2018. Now retired, he was elected to the ISU Athletes Commission in March and is preparing to marry fiancé Luis Fenero in July. Since its launch in late 2014, Eric has been an ambassador for Team Canada’s #OneTeam initiative which promotes LGBTQ+ inclusion and respect in sport and school.