Brooke Crain heads to Illinois this weekend for midwest nationals, her first BMX races since March. The two-time Olympian broke a rib and her back in April but is healed now and feels strong. Midwest nationals are prep for the UCI BMX World Championships in late July in Belgium, where the road to her third Olympic Games begins.
This time, 26-year-old Crain is aiming for the Games as her genuine self. In September 2018, Crain came out on Instagram, announcing her engagement to Australian BMX racer Rachel Jones.
“Honestly, I never really thought that I would come out while being in sports because of all the risk that comes with it,” she said by phone from her home in California. “I was always terrified that I would lose everything.”
Instead, Crain — who famously flashed the initials “AMV” on the palm of her glove before starting the final at the Olympic Games London 2012, a tribute to U.S. teammate Arielle Martin-Verhaaren, who had crashed training for the Games — has gained more than she ever imagined. Both kids and adults have reached out to thank her and to share their own struggles.
“I had ten kids tell me that my post gave them the courage to come out to their parents,” she said. “To me, that was all worth it regardless of what happened.”
Crain’s reluctance to come out stems to her high-school years. She was 16, had her first girlfriend, and her parents did not take it well.
“That’s I think what instilled the fear inside of me because in my head, if my parents can’t accept me and love me for who I am, then who will?” she said.
She put up walls and hid her true self from her family and friends — and the BMX community — until 2016 when she was preparing for the Rio Olympic Games. She remembered seeing Olympic freeskier Gus Kenworthy in a commercial on TV. Kenworthy came out a few months after he won a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Games. But instead of finding inspiration in Kenworthy’s story, Crain thought what a stress reliever it must have been for him to come out to the world.
“My whole life I wasn’t really worried about how I was going to do at races,” she admitted. “I was worried about people finding out who I was. That was what was consuming my mind.”
Then she met Jones — five years ago this week. The Australian eventually moved to California and lived with Crain and her parents in Visalia, but the two women had separate rooms. Crain knew how her family felt and did not want to disrespect them. Soon, she purchased a house so she and Jones could live like a real couple.
One day, while training for Rio, Crain was in the starting gate and started crying. Overwhelmed by the pressure of training and hiding her true self, she rolled off the gate and went to her car. Her coach followed her.
“What’s going on with you?” he asked.
“I’m gay,” she blurted.
“And?” he responded.
“What do you mean, ‘and’?” she asked. “I’ve never told anyone this, it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through.”
“I know, and I don’t care,” he replied. “Who you love does not matter to me.”
It was the first time that Crain felt accepted. He encouraged her to tell her sport psychologist too. But she still did not tell her parents. After the Rio Games, her father finally called her. He wanted to let her know that he knew, loved both her and Rachel, and wanted them to be happy.
“The second my parents knew and accepted it, then I didn’t care who else in the world knew,” Crain said.
Easier said than done. She still was not ready to bare her soul to the world. Until she and Jones became engaged last September.
“I just felt like I wanted to celebrate like everyone else celebrates when they get engaged,” Crain said. “It’s not fair that I feel like I have to hide this, such an important time in my life.”
A few days later, Crain decided to share her joy with the world. She posted an engagement photo on Instagram, along with a long message.
View this post on Instagram
My whole life I’ve lived in fear. Fear of letting people down. Mainly my family but also my friends, sponsors and every parent who has ever told me their daughter looks up to me. I’ve know I was different than most since I was 13 years old and I never had the courage to tell anyone about it until I met someone really special. I met this girl 5 years ago. I told her my darkest secret within 24 hours of knowing her, that’s when i knew there was something special about her. Ever since then she has become the best part of me. She has been there for every tear and hasn’t let me go a single day feeling ashamed of who I am. She teaches me everyday it’s ok to accept myself and to be proud of who i am. Here’s to being done living in fear of what people may think of me and here’s to every young girl who may be going through the same thing I did. I know this is not a choice, i know this is the hardest thing youve probably ever faced, but i promise it gets easier. I promise those who love you, will love you no matter what. Thank you to my family and friends that knew and have accepted me, for me. And thank you to my girl. You hid who you were for me, for years. You’re my greatest gift. You took this girl who felt so unlucky because she was gay, to feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. Whew. That’s over. I can finally breathe. #loveislove #choosehappy #iphonephotography thanks to @kayla__bree
She hit share, then ran to her dad and Jones in the backyard.
“I don’t know how this is going to go, but I feel better,” Crain said.
Jones also shared the news on Instagram, with a long message that ended: “Now that the cat is out of the bag … we gettin’ married!"
It went better than Crain ever imagined.
“When you’re in a boat like that, your mind always takes you to the worst things that can happen,” she said. “You don’t think about, Who is this going to benefit? How is this going to impact others?”
Now she realizes how important it was for her to share her story and be her true self to her family, friends, and the BMX and Olympic communities. She feels freer now, “like you lift a sumo wrestler off your chest.” Even her smile is brighter.
She also understands her parents’ reaction when she was a teenager.
“It’s a scary thing for parents,” she said. “You never want your kids’ lives to be harder than they have to be. When I was young, they were scared. They thought it was a phase. They didn’t want that for me. They didn’t want my life to be harder. Now looking back, they understand this is always who I’ve been. This has never been a choice for me.”
Crain is now focused on Tokyo 2020, and Jones also has Olympic dreams with Australia’s deep team of BMX riders. Crain finished eighth at the 2012 Games and fourth in 2016.
USA Cycling aims to qualify three BMX women for the Games (the U.S. must maintain a top-two ranking through June 2020), and Crain’s goal is to remain healthy and compete for one of those spots. Before the Rio 2016 Games, she had a broken leg. A year later, she missed the world championships on home soil because she lacerated her liver. Then at the 2018 world championships, she crashed in the final and finished eighth.
“I’ve learned from the last two Olympics that I can’t think too much about it,” she said. “You just have to try to stay healthy and do the best you can at each race. If you’re supposed to be there, you’ll make the team.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.