The eyes of the world will be turned toward Chicago from July 15-22 as the city plays host to an international contingent of athletes, artists and spectators for the 2006 Gay Games, and among that group are fifteen athletes from Nashville who will compete under the Team Nashville banner.
“This is a real milestone for the GLBT community in Nashville,” said Sam Felker, who along with his partner Keith Little, organized the Nashville contingent. “We are excited to have such a large and dedicated group of athletes making the trip to Chicago.”
Felker and Little competed in the last two Gay Games in Amsterdam and Sidney and wanted to introduce others to the multi-cultural event that takes place in various international venues every four years.
“It is truly amazing when literally thousands of gay and lesbian athletes from all over the world assemble for the Games,” said Little. “The camaraderie and fellowship at the Games are unlike any other athletic event — gay or straight — and everyone just has fun competing, spectating and making friends from all over the world.”
The members of Team Nashville will be competing alongside more than 12,000 athletes from 100 countries in 30 sports ranging from softball to tennis to track and field.
All of the athletes in Team Nashville are involved in individual or couples competition. “I was recruited back in December by Sam and Keith,” said Team Nashville Member Stan Schklar, who will be participating in the 5K Run. “Both of the guys have had a great time at the event in the past and they talked me into joining in. I can’t wait!”
Schklar has never before participated in competitive sports, but he is looking forward to jumping in with both feet and having the time of his life. He recently joined Nashville’s gay rugby league, the Nashville Grizzlies.
The open enrolment system that is employed by the Gay Games allows anyone with an interest to participate without having to audition or try out for the events. In addition to cultural events and parties planned throughout the week, there are also numerous volunteer opportunities for those who want to contribute but not participate in a sport. “The guiding principles of the Games are participation, inclusion and personal best,” said Felker. “Every athlete receives an Olympic style participation medal to illustrate the point that everyone who participates is a winner. I hope to set a personal best in the triathlon, and that will be my reward.”
At the same time, added Little, who is defending gold medalist in the javelin, “There are elite athletes along with the beginners, and usually at the Gay Games several masters world records are broken. I have been training hard to repeat my performance in Sydney, but I am sure the competition in Chicago will be fierce.”
While the ability to participate in the games and the possibility of placing is not far from the forefront of Schklar’s mind, he points out that even if he doesn’t place it will still be an honor to be representing Nashville’s gay community at the games.
“The thing I’m most excited about is meeting people from all over the world and being able to experience different cultures,” said Schklar, “That’s mixed in with a little nervousness, but it can’t dampen my excitement.”
The Gay Games kick off with the star-studded opening ceremony on the evening of July 15 at Soldier Field, the lakefront home stadium of American-style football’s Chicago Bears.
Headliners include Megan Mullally, best known as “Will & Grace’s” Karen Walker, comedian Margaret Cho, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Olympic medalist Greg Louganis, and former professional athletes Billy Bean, Dave Kopay and Esera Tuaolo. “The opening ceremonies in Sydney and Amsterdam were spectacular events,” said Felker. “The athletes always march into the stadium in Olympic style at the beginning, and this time we will be proudly carrying a banner that reads Team Nashville.”