When I was growing up, I was the queer kid who didn't like sports.
Now I've found happiness in hiking and cycling.
I'm the most athletic person in my friend group — it's weird, but I love it.
Growing up, I was the opposite of a jock; I was an artsy kid with a limp wrist.
As a kid in Little League, I was more content picking dandelions in the outfield than going up to bat. I wasn't good at sports, and I didn't want to be. But in my adult life, something shocking has happened: I've become one of the most athletic people I know.
Don't get me wrong, I still couldn't tell you what a linebacker does, and I steer clear of team sports. But what started as a casual interest in hiking and cycling has reached athletic proportions in recent years. I regularly amaze friends and family with tales of 50-mile bike rides or epic winter hiking treks.
My love of hiking started when I was a kid
After counting myself out of sports because of my queerness and lack of coordination, I've found an incredible amount of joy in activities that never occurred to me as "athletic" but have become a centerpiece of my life.
How did I get here? I suppose it all goes back to the Boy Scouts. I first encountered hiking as a teenager in a Scout troop that felt like a refuge. While I was woefully out of place among the middle-school boys, in Scouts, my nerdiness was an asset.
The pinnacle of my Scouting experience was a hiking trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I was the elected leader of our crew for a 70-mile trek where we lived out of our backpacks for 10 days. After that, I pretty much forgot about hiking.
But after college, settled in a new city with my first big-boy job, I rediscovered hiking. I was living just south of the incredible Adirondack Mountains, and my boss at the time encouraged me to take advantage. The beauty of this 6 million-acre landscape swept me up, and soon I was hiking there nearly every weekend. Within three years I'd completed the 46er challenge, summiting every Adirondack peak above 4,000 feet.
The athleticism of it all — the stamina to pull 20-mile days, or the strength to climb several thousand feet — was never really the point. What kept me coming back, aside from the breathtaking vistas, was the community. I loved the people I met on the trail, whether they were 20-somethings like me or lively retirees who often out-hiked me.
That social aspect has taken a big hit since the pandemic. I still hike, but often alone. Weekly group outings were canceled and never fully restored. For a while, I acutely felt what the US surgeon general has dubbed a loneliness epidemic.
I've since turned to cycling
What allowed me to claw out of that rut was, again to my surprise, an athletic activity: cycling. I started showing up to a casual weekly social ride in my city. The ease of conversation intoxicated me. I kept returning and formed new friendships.
Here, too, something unexpected happened: I pushed myself way beyond what I thought I was capable of physically. These new cycling friends brought me on weekend bike camping trips where we logged 40-mile days with more elevation gain than I'd like to admit, our bikes weighed down with bags and tents.
Much like the hiking pals I encountered in the Adirondacks, this cycling crew is filled with kind people who've always made me feel like I could be my true, quirky, queer self. Gone is the bone-deep dread I felt on team sports growing up; in its place is an authentic feeling of belonging and trust.
Perhaps this shouldn't surprise me. There have always been and always will be queer athletes. But I'm still hesitant to use "athlete" to describe myself. I'm not sure how many mountains I need to summit or miles I need to ride before it feels right. On some level, it doesn't matter. It's not the label I'm after. I'm in it for the community and beauty I experience along the way.
Mike De Socio is an independent journalist based in upstate New York. He's also the author of the forthcoming book "Morally Straight: How the Fight for LGBTQ Inclusion Changed the Boy Scouts—And America."
Read the original article on Business Insider