Editor’s Note: The comments made in this article in no way negatively reflect this university’s athletic department. The comments are based on the interviewee’s personal experiences.
It was a Friday night during his senior year of high school.
TJ Bleichner walked into the kitchen dressed a little more formally than usual.
“Where are you going?” his mom asked.
“I have a date,” he told her. “With a boy.”
Bleichner said he does not believe being gay requires an official coming out story at a pinpointed moment in time.
“I’ve always just kind of been who I am. I’ve never really necessarily tried to hide it,” Bleichner said. “At the same time, I’ve never really been completely open about it, either. It’s just a thing. I would act the same way if I were heterosexual.”
Despite being raised Catholic, Bleichner said his mother was nothing but supportive of his sexuality. She never got angry and only ever showed him love.
However, the same cannot be said for Bleichner’s peers on a Catholic Church retreat.
Some of the guys called Bleichner “gay” or “fag,” but he didn’t think anything of it, Bleichner said.
“It really doesn’t bother me,” Bleichner said. “What else can I say? ‘True?’”
While Bleichner doesn’t go to any lengths to hide his sexuality, he said he does not necessarily broadcast it either.
“I will say that a lot of people don’t know that about me, but at the same time, I’m not trying to make it known,” Bleichner said.
“I don’t care if everyone knows but I’m not gonna be the one to come out and be like, ‘I’m gay! Everyone, I’m gay!’”
Bleichner, a freshman who runs track and field for this university, which was named one of the top 25 LGBT-friendly colleges, said he prefers to keep his personal life separate from his athletic career.
“My coaches and teammates, unless we’re friends outside track and field, they don’t really know much about my personal life,” Bleichner said.
In high school, Bleichner played baseball and soccer before he ran track, but found track to be a perfect fit.
Bleichner attributes his love for the sport to his coach.
“The indoor track coach I had, [coach Robert], he has been the biggest inspiration in my whole life,” Bleichner said. “He’s been my favorite coach ever. He’s been one of the best role models I’ve ever had. He pushed me like no other coach ever did. I don’t know what else to say. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had.”
Bleichner only ran indoor track his freshman year of high school so he didn’t know that Coach Robert left the school during the spring season. Bleichner contacted Coach Robert and started running club track for him during the summers.
“I’ve run club with him ever since then up to a month ago,” Bleichner said. “I was still running with him [before I left] in August.”
Bleichner’s high school track team didn’t have a locker room, so this is his first experience being in a locker room with his teammates.
Though Bleichner has only been at this university for about three weeks, he said he’s only ever heard one offensive comment while in the locker room.
“I just kinda looked up. I didn’t really say anything,” Bleichner said. “Right away, a different teammate noticed and spoke up and I didn’t even have to say anything. The other teammate apologized, not just directly to me, but just a general sorry if he offended anyone.”
Bleichner, a criminology and sociology double major, said he dreams of being a professional athlete, but is currently focusing on college and his freshman year.
If he were to succeed as a professional athlete, Bleichner said he would expect to be treated the same as every other player on the team – same coaching, same workouts.
And if anyone has a problem with that?
“I’d tell them to meet me on the track,” Bleichner said. “We can settle business there.”
Featured Photo Credit: TJ Bleichner, a Freshman sociology and criminology major and student athlete as he takes a track start. As an openly gay athlete, TJ has gone through many obstacles but as part of UMD’s track and field team, he has been warmly embraced by his teammates and praised for his abilities. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Maya Pottiger is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.