Sometimes the best thing to do is to let your performance speak for itself.
It’s what I did one time during my high school track career after I saw a photo of me race walking on Facebook and a competitor made a derogatory comment about me being gay and about my body.
I decided not to respond since I had obliterated him during the race and knew he was offended that a short, gay, non-traditional athletic-looking guy just crushed him on the track.
Sometimes the best way to stand up for yourself isn’t with words, but with your performance. If you show up ready to race, focused and ready to win, that speaks louder than any words ever can.
Even in 2019 I still deal with rude remarks from some competitors when we pass each other while training or in a race, but I know crossing the finish line in first is the best way to get in the last word.
It’s a philosophy I’ve carried with me since coming out as gay in my Maine high school as a sophomore and one I hope will propel me to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as a race walker.
My journey to the Olympics started when I was very young and I would watch my older sister Lauren race walk at the local USA Track and Field summer program. I was crushed that I was too young to join the team at 6 years old.
My parents convinced the program to let me join a year early and I’ve essentially been training ever since. I grew up in a really tiny town in Maine, with not a lot of opportunity and not a whole lot to do. It’s a great place to live if you make good choices for yourself, but unfortunately a lot of young people tend to feel stuck there and never really leave to chase their dreams.
When you run as a little kid you don’t have much to think about besides go faster. You simply try to do your best, beat the person in front of you and have fun. As I progressed through high school and I began competing on the national and International level, the social and political aspect of track and field began to show itself to me.
I remember many times feeling like the odd one out being gay. I didn’t look or sound like my competition, my body wasn’t quite the same as everyone else’s and to this day I can name very few out LGBT athletes in the world of professional track and field.
I was lucky to have supportive family and friends but at times it felt very lonely because I was 1 of 4 out people in my high school. When I did come out sophomore year, it felt as if a literal weight had been lifted off of me.
Living your full, true, authentic self is important for so many reasons, but for me personally it helped me in my training immensely. I didn’t feel heavy in training, I was able to think clearly, breathe fully and felt connected and grounded to the track with each step.
Having an LGBT role model would have been a really positive thing in my career coming up but even now as I reflect back on my high school track career, I can’t think of anyone I looked up to that I share an identity with.
I choose to live visibly and proudly as an out gay athlete so that hopefully some kid struggling with their sexuality or gender identity in a tiny town will realize that they have a place in sport.
Not only did I have a place on the start line, but I showed people around me that stereotypes about gay men not being athletically talented were false. I have to say, it made it that much sweeter when I would crush the competition.
Back in 2016 I decided to leave my full-time teaching position on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas to pursue the Olympic team after finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials.
It was a really tough decision to make, but my students are a huge part of why I do this. I was out when I was teaching them and it really gave me incredible hope for the future. It wasn’t until six months into the school year someone asked me if I had a partner and I told them yes.
They thought it was really silly at first, as lots of things are in fifth grade. So we circled up, talked about it for 10 minutes and then it was as if nobody cared and on we went with the day’s lesson.
If you aren’t taught that something is shameful and wrong when you are a child, when you come across someone different than you it is just a new learning experience talking to that person about what makes them different. Kids are so open and non-judgmental, they motivated me even more to live my authentic self.
After leaving Standing Rock I moved to Chula Vista, Calif., to train full time for 2020. It has really paid off as I won my first 50K national title in 2019, have walked two of the three fastest times in the U.S. since 2016 and placed 12th out of 32 at the Pan American Race Walk Championships.
Most recently in August 2019 I finished in fifth place at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. This is by far the highest I have ever placed at an international competition of this caliber (top 14 athletes from North and South America taking place every four years.) It was a very tough race and was an amazing opportunity to represent the United States the way I want to, with love and respect for all.
In order to make the Olympic Team I pretty much have to win Olympic Trials and have a really high-quality race at World Race Walking Team Championships, which I’m competing at in May 2020 as long as I can stay healthy both physically and mentally. It’s going to be tough, especially without the support of a sponsor, but nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself.
I really am hoping to make the Olympic team so I can represent the LGBT Community on the world stage. Growing up gay in a small town was challenging at times, but I would just let those kids out there who are in a similar situation I was in know that there is so much more out there and sometimes it’s necessary to be brave and leave in order to go after your dreams.
There are a lot of people that are the driving force behind my motivation — my husband, parents and grandparents, sister, former students, indigenous ancestors and the LGBT community. My coach, Tim Seaman, has always been supportive of me and continues to want to see me do well.
I’m also extremely thankful for the U.S. Race Walking Foundation for assisting me with training needs in preparation for Pan American Games and Olympic Trials. Dr. Okazaki and my athletic trainer, Ciaran Lane, help keep me positive on tough days and turn my disappointing days back into optimistic ones.
Even if I don’t make the team, it’ll have been 100% worth the journey. Within two months of living in San Diego I met my husband, Manuel Martinez, who has been an incredible part of my support system both on and off the track, my pillar of strength.
He supports me mentally, runs my aid station during races and most importantly lifts me up when I’m experiencing a low during training.
Half the prize is the journey. Our relationship and the experience of being an Olympic hopeful is more valuable to me than any medal ever could be.
Matthew Forgues, 27, is a 2020 Olympic Hopeful in the 50K racewalk and five-time Team USA member. He trains full time in Chula Vista, Calif., works at Hilltop Middle School and is actively looking for a sponsor. He can be reached by email ([email protected]) or Instagram (matthewcallingelk).
Forgues is crowd-funding to pay for his training costs to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim ([email protected]).