Where do I start…I will always have a lasting memory of Chicago as a welcoming and very gay-friendly place. Everywhere we went people greeted us with smiles and encouragement. On the trains and on the street everyone welcomed the athletes and participants of the Games. Then Mayor Richard Daley gave an impassioned speech at the opening about how Chicago is a diverse city that welcomes everyone, regardless of race, nationality or sexual orientation. He even made a pitch for domestic partnership benefits (which are now offered to Chicago city employees) and same-sex marriage! What a departure from the regressive politics, both Democratic and Republican, in Tennessee! How refreshing to visit an American city where the gay and lesbian community is not just tolerated, but embraced.
As we marched from the holding area, a large assembly of Team Chicago yelled out a huge cheer for Team Nashville and the other 30 or so athletes from around Tennessee.
Standing with Team Nashville in the dark stadium out on Soldier Field holding up our blue lights along with all of the thousands of other athletes with colored lights— together creating a huge rainbow flag. What a sign of unity!
Jumping into the icy waters of Lake Michigan at 6 a.m. to begin my triathlon, biking up Lakeshore Drive with the sun rising over the sailboats on Lake Michigan, wrecking my bike but continuing on, finishing the race by running the 5k in the sweltering heat. Never a dull moment!
Watching Keith make his incredible throw in the javelin and bring home the gold medal!
Meeting up with friends we had made in previous Gay Games in Amsterdam and Sydney.
Enjoying the party-like atmosphere in Boys Town–Halstead where athletes strolled the streets with their recently won medals, laughter and music poured out of the packed bars, and everyone was having a great time at the Games.
Getting up early to watch Stan Schklar run the 5K down at the Chicago waterfront. Stan had a great race and would have won a medal in the "biggest smile" category!
Watching speedster Patrick Cooper run the 5k with an impressive time of 17:10, and picking up a silver medal in his age group.
Watching the West Hollywood water polo match against cross-state rival Team San Francisco. I didn’t know a bunch of gay guys could have so much fun dunking each other in a pool!
Watching Keith win the bronze medal in the shot put against stiff competition in his age group.
Attending the closing ceremony in Soldier Field with thousands of athletes and participants, hearing Cindy Lauper sing "True Colors", hearing the closing addresses by Billy Bean and Mayor Daley, seeing the Dallas Coy boys dance, and hearing the Vice-Mayor of Cologne welcome us there for the next Gay Games in 2010. Something to look forward to!
I could go on and on…
Patrick Cooper, who brought home a gold and two silver medals:
The thing I enjoyed the most about the Gay Games was the camaraderie of track and field. Everyone sat underneath the trees waiting for their events, unless they were cheering on friends – old or new. I was fortunate enough to be asked to run a 4×400 relay with Team DC late on the last day; the guys were great and it was probably the highlight of my Games. We won silver. I found out later the gold medal winning team, Team LA, was asking for me after I had already agreed to run with Team DC. The guys on my team were amazing, and I am glad I was on the team despite adding a silver instead of gold.
I came to the Gay Games having trained for one specific event, the 5k road race. I only planned to run that race. The morning of the race was a disaster; I barely made it to the start on time. I took silver. I actually cannot honestly say I could have taken gold had things gone more smoothly, but it would have been more of a race. I had nothing that day to respond to the gold metal winner when he went around me.
I was very unhappy with my performance a day and a half later. A friend convinced me to take on another race despite being tired. I would have liked to run a middle distance race, 1500m or 800m, but it was too late to do either. The only choice was a 5000m on the track – grueling considering I had just raced the distance on Wednesday and it was now only Friday. Fortunately, everyone else was worn down as well, and I was able to take gold. At the end of the day my total medal count was one gold and two silver.
I also want to thank Sam Felker and Keith Little for the organization they did in putting Team Nashville together. It was great to have a team, and not just be there by myself. I really encourage gay Nashvillians to get more active and involved in sports. The Rugby team and softball are a great start. Distance running is a great opportunity to get active and to compete as well, and something you can do alone on your own schedule or with people. There is no reason why in four years Nashville can’t have enough track athletes for me to be running on a Team Nashville relay team rather than being a mercenary for other teams.
I enjoyed meeting people from all over the world. The trading pins were a great way/reason to do this, as well as making for memorable souvenirs. The opening and closing ceremonies were awesome, and the camaraderie with Team Nashville was great. While I was out of the tennis tournament after the second round on Monday, the other sports in addition to the sites, restaurants, and shopping of Chicago kept me busy!
Participating in these games will have to go down as one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. I’ll always remember being down on Soldier Field during the opening ceremonies with all the other athletes and the stadium filled with people cheering us on. I get chills every time I think about it.
The people of Chicago made us all feel so welcomed. On several occasions, I’d be at a restaurant or a Starbucks and someone would come over to ask if I was enjoying the city or inquire if I was finding my way around okay.
For me, the best part of these games was competing with and meeting other athletes from all over the world. We all had an instant friendship with each other as soon as we’d meet.
The week seemed to go so quickly, but I’m gearing up for the next Games in Colon, Germany, and I hope to see some of those same friendly faces again in 2010!
Thanks “O&AN,” you guys have done an excellent job covering this event and bringing the story back to Tennessee!
The overall feeling of mutual respect and support was very moving. Everyone wanted the Games to be a "no attitude" positive experience, and therefore it was. If we could just bottle that.