USA Triathlon News Articles A Weight Lifted: Par...

A Weight Lifted: Paratriathlete Hailey Danz Shares her Coming Out Story

By Hailey Danz | Jan. 15, 2021, 1:40 p.m. (ET)


In November, 2020, I did one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. In this social media post, I came out as gay.


I think I’ve known I was gay since college, but I fought it for a long time. I already fell into one minority group having lost my leg to cancer, and I guess I didn’t want there to be one more thing to make me different. Even as I began to accept this piece of my identity, I was ambivalent toward the idea of coming out publicly. On the one hand, it felt like something I shouldn't be obligated to do. While my sexuality is a part of me, it's certainly not the most significant part. I didn't want to make a big deal about being gay because in the grand scheme of who I am, it's not a big deal. 


(It's my hope that one day people won't feel like they have to "come out" as we know it, because acceptance of differences in sexuality is the norm. And for the record, I think we're close to this being the case.)


But the reality is, we're not there yet. And in our current world, if you're a gay professional athlete who's not publicly out, you're hiding something. 


And let me tell you, hiding a part of yourself is exhausting. The weight of that burden is not unlike the weight of a chronically high training load. When you carry it around long enough, fatigue becomes your baseline, and you stop noticing how much effort you're using just to stay afloat. You get really good at convincing yourself that everything is fine, ignoring that extra edge of irritability or the racing mind that keeps you up at night. And so you power through, believing you're doing what's best, until one day you wake up and realize you can't possibly spend one more second pedaling your bike … or pretending to be someone you're not. 


This is where I found myself in November. It had been months in the making, but I was finally able to admit to myself that the weight of hiding was too heavy to continue carrying. I decided I had too much to offer this world, and the energy I was using to filter myself needed to be devoted to greater things.


That was when I decided to share the most difficult — and most liberating — thing I had ever written.



Of course, I was worried about the reaction I would get. Would I be treated differently? Would others somehow think less of me? Would people be mad at me for keeping this from them?


But one reaction I never worried about was the one I would get from USA Triathlon. Over the years, USAT has been vocal in its support for the LGBTQ community. And while taking a stance like that may be seen as controversial by some, for somebody in my position, it was the difference between wondering if being who I am would sabotage my career and knowing that my primary support system would have my back no matter what.


As it turned out, all the fears I had were entirely unwarranted. I am extremely fortunate that the people in my life gave me the response that every LGBTQ person deserves: they told me they loved me, and we went on with our lives. I had built this idea up in my mind that coming out was going to have an earth-shattering effect on all my relationships. But in the days that followed, what surprised me most was how little my daily interactions changed. The sentiment that people loved me for every part of who I was was not just lip service — it was the truth.  


There was one earth-shattering effect that did come about, but it had nothing to do with other people. When I released the words inside my soul out into the world of social media (after the immediate vulnerability hangover that lasted half a day) I felt so much lighter. My mind — which had previously been preoccupied with keeping track of the half truths and lies of omission — was quiet. When I was with others, instead of thinking about how I was going to redirect the conversation if it shifted toward my romantic life, I was able to simply be in the moment. And for the first time in weeks, I was sleeping straight through the night.



Through this process, I've found a whole new level of gratitude for the members of the LGBTQ community who came before me. After my post, my inbox was flooded with messages from these individuals welcoming me with open arms. And as they did, I realized that each and every one of them had played a role in getting me to this point. By being out, they showed me that I could be my authentic self and still have a thriving career. By being visible, they showed me that I could find love and create a family. And by simply being themselves, they showed me that I could be happy. That the shame and insecurity I had internalized for so many years did not have to be the end of my story.


And in the end, that's a large reason why I decided to write the post I did. Because after everything these others have done for me, I had no choice but to do the same for the next generation. My career as an athlete has given me a platform to encourage and inspire others, and I would be doing the world a disservice by not using it to be out, to be visible, and to show others that they can do the same.


Since going public, I’ve had others reach out to me and share their own stories of coming to terms with their sexuality and beginning the process of coming out. Hearing people share those vulnerabilities with me has meant everything, because having been on the other side of it, I know how impactful just saying those words to another human can be.


So while I never wanted to make a big deal out of being gay, I’m glad I went public because visibility is a pretty big deal. The more coming-out stories we hear, the more loving and accepting this world becomes. And the more accepting the world is, the less time a kid will spend lying awake at night wondering how much longer they can carry the weight of hiding who they are. They will sleep peacefully, knowing that they can be their true self and pursue a life of happiness.


Together We Thrive 

USA Triathlon is committed to taking immediate and long-term action to encourage a culture of equality in the sport, build a future for the sport that all people can see themselves being a part of, break through barriers of entry to the sport for underserved and underrepresented individuals and communities, and take responsibility for empowering, exposing, educating and engaging the multisport community to drive actionable change in their respective local communities. To learn more, access resources or get involved in these efforts, please visit Want to share your story with the multisport community? Send a note to

Hailey Danz

Hailey Danz is a professional triathlete and a member of the Toyota U.S. Paratriathlon Resident Team in Colorado Springs. She won a silver medal in triathlon’s Paralympic debut at the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016. Follow her on Instagram at @hailstormusa.