Participant Profiles

Participant Profiles

Every participant has a story to share about why they are part of the Gay Games. Want to share your story? Contact us at or use the convenient Share Your Story tab through the 2014 Gay Games Facebook page:  

In the meantime, click on the name below to read more about your fellow 2014 participants.

Douglas Bates, Bodybuilding

Nori La Rue, Cycling

Hector Torres, Triathlon

Mason Caminiti, Bodybuilding

Gregg Valentine, Bodybuilding

Deborah Grant, Powerlifting

Beth Richard, Sailing

Kenney Coleman, Track & Field

Barbara Zoloth, Ballroom Dancing

Erik Hall, Marathon

Cubs McGee, Bodybuilding

Alex Macdonald, Swimming

Ellen Broido, Tennis

Natalie Naylor, Swimming

Kinnon Ross MacKinnon, Powerlifting

Caradee Tajalle, Volleyball

John Andrew Gallery: Billiards

Scott Swaggerty: Softball

Sonya Jaquez Lewis: Tennis

Jeff Kagan: Hockey

Kelly Scheall: Flag Football

Bill Doyle: Sailing

Ted Wammes: Road Races

Jerry Lewis: Track

Jim Hahn: Bowling

Rob Smitherman: Basketball

Aliona Netesova: Marathon


Bates comes back from the dead, still competing at 58


Douglas Bates 
: Palm Springs, CA
Event: Bodybuilding

I competed in the '06 Games, having "come back from the dead" at 125 pounds with complications due to HIV/AIDS, and 9 months later won the Silver in bodybuilding. I'm coming back 8 years later at 58 now to show that anyone can succeed, live a full life after any setback, illness, infirmity, and I am sharing my story with the world. Check out my blog here!

La Rue returns to Gay Games, this time with wife

Nori La Rue
: Portland, OR
Event: Cycling

I first participated in the Gay Games in San Francisco back in the late '80s. I placed first in the Women's Open Light Weight bodybuilding contest. I had such a blast. Now here I am happily married 25 years later, and I want to share the experience with my beautiful wife, Kate Richardson. We both will be in the cycling competitions!

Third time's the charm for Torres at the 2014 Gay Games

Hector Torres
City: Orlando, FL
Event: Triathlon 

I have been doing the Gay Games since 2006. In the 2010 games, I had an accident during the triathlon, it took me out of commission for some time. But I got up and started training again for my next race. I have done several Ironman since then. This time around, I am going with Gold in mind. It has been a great experience and wonderful event. Looking forward to it. I'll see you there.

Caminiti may be the shortest, but will be one of the proudest 

Mason Caminiti
: Columbus, Ohio
Event: Bodybuilding

As a transgender man I never thought I’d live past 19 let alone transition and compete in bodybuilding. Numerous barriers prevented me from transitioning for many years, weights were all I had to masculinize my body and it became my only salvation. I’m terrified & thrilled to compete as I’ll be facing my deepest body insecurities and living out a dream. I work 2 jobs to afford training sessions and trip costs and I struggle through continuous trans related hypothyroid issues. I may be the shortest, the smallest statured, wide hips, my mastectomy scars will show, but I can guarantee I’ll be one of the proudest. It’s about honoring who I knew I was at 3yrs old and paying tribute to an amazing sport that literally transformed my life. I’m excited to be a part of history with my global LGBT family and allies.

Valentine wants to prove it is never too late to get fit

Gregg Valentine
: Chicago, IL
Event: Bodybuilding

Nine years ago, I weighed 350 lbs, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and couldn't do a push up. Through determination, diet and exercise, I've lost over 150 lbs, started competing in small natural bodybuilding shows and now, at 53 years old, ready and excited to compete on a much larger stage to prove to myself and others that it is never too late to get fit. I am excited to meet other natural bodybuilders and learn from them.

Grant will celebrate beating breast cancer at the Gay Games

Deborah Grant
City: Stockton, NJ
Event: Powerlifting

In 2011, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I could think of nothing more rewarding than celebrating my three year anniversary, being the first Breast Cancer survivor to compete in the Gay Games as a powerlifter doing the bench press.


Richard comes back to where it all started 


Beth Richard

: El Dorado Hills, CA
Event: Sailing

I am excited about my first Gay Games! I learned to sail on the west side of Cleveland. During high school and college, I raced at Edgewater Yacht Club where I crewed on a Tartan Ten. After graduating from college in the mid 1980s, I was away from the sport for many years, but came back to it in 2004. I bought and restored a 1967 Lightning, and usually skipper with my spouse and daughter crewing for me. Sadly, neither can make it to GG9CLE. Me, my spouse, and my cousin made an all-woman team at the Lightning 70th Anniversary Regatta in 2008. I sail at Folsom Lake in California. I can't begin to express how excited I am to be racing my favourite boat, the Lightning, alongside the boat in which I learned to race, Tartan Ten, at the club where it all started for me, Edgewater Yacht Club!


Coleman aims to win gold and make a point

Kenney Coleman
City: Cornwall, NY
Event: Track & Field

Being the subject of teasing and bullying, I wanted to join a sport to shake the image of my aggressors thinking I was weak. So I joined Cross Country. From there I started running Track & Field and it just blossomed into a huge passion of mine. Track & Field is a tough sport for gay athletes to be open in and now being out I feel that the Gay Games is a perfect way for me to be myself in the sport that I love. I heard about it while searching up some Track & Field stats online and being that I missed Cologne I made it a must that I attend Cleveland. My goal is to win double golds in the hurdles and show everyone that your orientation does not affect you as an athlete.


Gold medal winner Zoloth hooked on atmosphere at the Gay Games


Barbara Zoloth
: Oakland, CA
Event: Ballroom Dancing

I first competed in ballroom dancing at the Sydney 2002 Gay Games and have been hooked ever since. I went on to win 2 gold medals in Chicago, danced in Cologne, and will dance again in Cleveland. I particularly love how supportive everyone is. It's a total high, and I encourage everyone to participate--the always appreciative crowd will cheer you regardless of level, age or ability.


Hall comes out, picks Gay Games 9 for first marathon 

Erik Hall

City: Charleston, IL
Event: Marathon 

After the Boston bombing last spring, I decided I wanted to sign up for my first marathon. I've run many 5Ks and 10Ks and have one half marathon under my belt. It seemed time to do a marathon. Last spring, I also started to come out as gay. I read Mark Tewksbury's book, and it inspired me to look into the Gay Games. It seemed like the perfect place to run my first marathon.

McGee loses 100+lbs, prepares to compete

Cubs McGee
City: Seattle, WA
Event: Bodybuilding

In 2007 I found myself at the biggest I'd ever been, 320lbs. I decided that wasn't what I wanted for my life. Over the next 5 year I lost 100lbs. Feeling a huge sense of accomplishment I knew I still was not where I wanted to be, so I went to Tom Doyle, Mr USA 1996 and asked him to train me like a bodybuilder. Eventually the discussion came around to competing and he strongly suggested the Games. So here I am 7 years later having lost 100+lbs and training for my first bodybuilding competition. I'm excited and humbly grateful for everyone who has supported and cheered me on in this dream of mine. Thank you.

Macdonald stays active and feels fabulous

City: Barrie, Ontario
Event: Swimming

On the heels of some changes to my mobility, I was looking for ways to get active again, and the pool seemed like just the right place. I started swimming for fun and exercise, and then someone suggested I go in the Gay Games Open Water Swim. I am up to 4 miles a week, and I feel fabulous!

Competition and camaraderie keep Broido coming back 

Ellen Broido
City: Perrysburg, OH
Event: Tennis

I have competed in two prior Games (New York in 1994 and Chicago in 2006). I will be competing again because I loved the camaraderie, fun, and high-level but welcoming competition. Being able to participate knowing I can share who my family is and whom I love has been an additional bonus. While I participate in “traditional” sports (tennis this time, swimming in the past), I have had tons of fun watching the non-traditional ones: the Pink Flamingo, same-sex ballroom dance, and the great arts programs. I have also enjoyed meeting people from across the world and the US, and learning about their lives while sharing my own experiences.

Naylor's dream is coming true in Cleveland+Akron

Natalie Naylor
City: San Francisco, California
Event: Swimming

I am a 34 year-old lesbian mom of a kindergartener. This will be my first Gay Games, but it has been a life-long dream. In February of 2012, I had brain surgery and thought I wouldn't ever be able to swim again. I may not win any medals, but competing is a dream come true!

MacKinnon hopes to set the bar in Powerlifting

Kinnon Ross MacKinnon
City: Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Event: Powerlifting

I'm excited to compete in power lifting at the Gay Games for the first time in 2014! I was involved in competitive sports for most of my life and a sponsored amateur snowboarder fjavascript:void(0);rom 16-19. When I came out as bisexual at age 19 I was lost emotionally, and had no access to any LGBT sports leagues. I became inactive for 3 years. Now, at age 28, I have been competing in powerlifting for 2 years. I am a FTM trans man and I compete as male in the 72kg weight class. I am very much looking forward to experiencing what a LGBT inclusive sports competition feels like. I can't wait to be in Ohio!

Tajalle is looking to spike Guam's place in Gay Games history 

Caradee Tajalle
Mangilao, Guam
Event: Volleyball


Hafa Adai! (How are you friend!), This year’s Gay Games 9 will be the debut for my team "Umitde" & we will be competing in the Average B division for Mixed Volleyball. 

I am most excited because I always dreamed of competing in something, so exciting as this whole event. I am truly honored to be part of the FIRST team ever to represent our beautiful Island of Guam " Where Americas day begins." 

Also I will be the first transgender athlete representing my Island for the FIRST time as well. We come with our utmost hospitality & display our " Hada Adai Spirit" on and off the court. 

Good Luck to everyone & I look forward to making new friends. SI Yu'us Ma'ase.

Gallery issues challenge to younger prospects

John Andrew Gallery
City: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Event: Billiards

I will be participating in my fourth Gay Games. I played tennis at the 1994 Gay Games in New York (tore a tendon in my leg in the quarter finals of my age group and had to default), played billiards in Chicago (2006) and Cologne (2010). 

Being one of the few Americans in the tournament in Cologne was a lot of fun; it was nice to meet and play against guys from Germany, Italy and England. In addition, Cologne was a great city to visit. 

I'll be 74 at the Gay Games in Cleveland (God willing) and thus I probably won't be competing in many more. So I'm really working hard this year to improve my game and my chances of a medal. 

All you younger guys need to be kind to your elders. (Just kidding.) For me the Gay Games are an inspiring  example of how far we have come during my lifetime—from hiding and being ashamed to being out and proud and accepted. It's truly amazing and I feel very fortunate to have been able to hang around long enough to see it.

Swaggerty knows a thing or two about softball and Team CLE

Scott Swaggerty
City: Cleveland, Ohio
Event: Softball

How long have you been president and organizer of Team Cleveland?
I formed Team Cleveland in November 2012. I had been working on it for several months prior and began to assemble a great group of people to make it work and get it up and running.

How long have you been participating in gay athletics?
I have been associated with gay sports for about seven years. I have participated in softball, bowling, billiards and volleyball.

Where are you from and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Cleveland and continue to reside there now.

Describe your involvement in the Midwest Invitational Softball Tournament (MIST) in Cleveland.
I have been associated with softball for seven years, serving on the board of directors for three years, assistant commissioner for two years and league recruiter for one year. In 2010, we began planning for Cleveland Mist 2012, and I was selected co-director by my peers. It was the biggest tournament hosted in Cleveland gay sports to date. We had 40 teams participate and more than 750 players and fans attend.

How psyched are you about GG9?
I am excited about GG9. I have registered a softball team, and I am considering doing a triathlon/10K run as well. I speak actively to get folks ready for
August 2014 and encourage all to take advantage of the early registration process. Cleveland will do a great job with GG9 in 2014. We know how to throw a party and we are a sports town.
Interviewed by Jeff Woodward

From percussion to the racquet, Gay Games veteran co-leads Team Colorado

Sonya Jaquez Lewis
Denver, Colorado
Event: Tennis 

You are a Gay Games veteran – correct? 
Yes. Most recently I won the silver medal in mixed doubles at Gay Games 8 in Cologne, Germany, and am really looking forward to trying to win another medal in tennis in Cleveland in 2014.  

Do you play singles, doubles and mixed doubles?
I enjoy playing competitively. That includes mixed doubles and women’s doubles with my life partner, Allison.

When did you first participate in Gay Games?
I participated in my first Gay Games as a percussionist, not as a tennis player. I founded the North Carolina Pride Marching Band and in 1994 marched with the Lesbian and Gay Bands of America (LGBA) at Gay Games 4 in New York City. Little did I know that five Gay Games later, I would be on the Federation of Gay Games board of directors, getting ready to invite the world to come enjoy Gay Games 9 in Cleveland+Akron.  

What is your role with Team Colorado?
I am currently co-president of Team Colorado. In 2009, I helped to organize and host the first LGBT statewide sporting event in Colorado, SportsFest. The event has grown each year, and we now have more than 40 LGBT sports teams in Denver alone. I think Colorado will have one of the largest state contingencies ever for Gay Games 9, and that includes more than 200 athletes who traveled to Australia in 2002. 

What is your involvement in LGBT issues outside athletics?
I am the first and only out lesbian in the history of Colorado to be elected as a national delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which was held in Denver in 2008. I am also a Latina community adviser to Congressman Jared Polis, the first out LGBT representative elected to Congress. 

What are your professional pursuits?
I am a licensed pharmacist and an internationally published author, lecturer and adjunct professor at the Colorado University School of Pharmacy. 

Interviewed by Jeff Woodard


Smallest kid in class, Jeff Kagan now is award-winning LGBT sports organizer

City: New York

Event: Hockey

How old were you when you first became interested in sports?
As a child, I was a "late bloomer.” I was the smallest kid in my class and wasn't very coordinated. I was always picked last in gym class for teams. I played Little League baseball when I was 13, and I was just terrible. It wasn't until I was 24 and I had moved to New York that I became more interested in sports. I joined a volleyball team at work (HBO) and then played softball occasionally. Shortly after, I was introduced to ice hockey by some younger cousins, and the game just consumed me.

Have you always been an organizer?
Pretty much. I've always found myself starting a new group or club if one didn't already exist. In 1999, I co-founded the New York City Gay Hockey Association, which is now the largest gay hockey organization in the United States and second-largest in the world. In 2000, I co-founded Out Bounds NYC, an umbrella organization that promotes and supports all LGBT sports and recreation organizations in the greater New York area. In 2003, my peers at HBO honored me as a recipient of the Andrew Heiskell Community Service Award, one of 12 honorees chosen from among AOL Time Warner's 90,000 employees worldwide. The award, named for a former chairman of Time Inc., recognizes the exceptional volunteer efforts of employees and their achievements in public service, community development and human rights. In November 2006, I co-founded the NYC Gay Basketball League, which started with four men’s teams. Now there are two divisions comprising 14 men’s and 16 women’s teams.

What are some of your other contributions to LGBT athletics?
I have co-produced three Sports Ball parties (with Amy Lesser), an annual fundraiser that has raised more than $50,000 for participating LGBT sports and recreation groups in the New York City area. I’ve also volunteered with organizations such as Marriage Equality New York, GLSEN and GLAAD. I was featured in the book Jocks 2 by Dan Woog, and more recently in a new book by Cyd Zeigler, Jr. and Jim Buzinski titled The Outsports Revolution: Truth and Myth in the World of Gay Sports. Also, in 2008, I was named Sports Out Loud Magazine's Athlete of the Year. I write occasional articles in StandUp Magazine, Compete Magazine and Next Magazine, and I also write a blog (

Can you speak to the positive trends you see in LGBT sports?
It's great to see more and more professional athletes coming out. They are role models for kids and teenagers who need a light at the end of the tunnel to tell them that they can get there too. I am 45, and had there been some role models when I was growing up, I may have had an easier time accepting my sexual orientation. And I may have been able to deal with the pressures of being different – knowing that I wasn't alone. Professional athletes are role models for us, and when they come forward (either coming out or as supportive allies), it means so much and it helps.
Interview by Jeff Woodard

Kelly Scheall tackles flag football on North Coast

City: Cleveland
Event: Flag football

Kelly Scheall is commissioner of the 2014 Gay Games Women’s Flag Football event and director of the local league in Cleveland, the North Coast Athletics Flag Football League (NCAFFL) (

How did you first learn about Gay Games?
I lived in California for many years and had no idea what the Gay Games were until I moved home to Cleveland. I just wanted to help in any way I can, to show how lovely the city is and how great the people are. 

How many flag football teams are expected to participate?
There will be 400 to 500 individuals playing from all over the United States. We’re hoping for some international teams as well. Toronto is probably the most likely, and there’s a team from Puerto Rico that we’ve reached out to as well.

Is the sport gaining momentum within the United States?
We are really starting to explode. In the past five years, quite a few cities have added leagues or club teams. The Cleveland league started in 2010 and now is made up of four teams (45 players). There’s a lot of concentration on the Midwest. Indianapolis has been added, and Columbus will be added in the very near future. We’re also expecting several teams from the East and West coasts for the 2014 Gay Games. I fully expect 2014 to be a breakout year for us. 

What are other U.S. cities actively involved with women’s flag football?
Leagues in New York City, Chicago and Denver are huge. Cleveland is looking toward becoming the fourth city. I do know several other cities are building their women’s program as well. 

Can you compare the sport’s growth to that of any other sport?
In 10 years or less, I think you’ll see semi-pro leagues on mainstream sports stations. The Women’s Football Alliance airs its championship game there. I think in the near future, they will start airing more in the bigger markets. Just like with the WNBA, I think you’re going to see a change in attitude. It’s going to grow very quickly in the next few years.

What about opportunities for players in cities who can’t afford travel?
Many cities start at a club level. As popularity and finances grow, so does the opportunity to travel. We, for instance, will travel to a close participating city or host another city, just to get some game action. It’s a very nice opportunity for both teams.

What draws you to flag football?
It’s the physicality and mental part of the game. It’s kinda like life – you can mess up on one play and turn around and make another play to change the game. Sometimes you don’t get a second chance. Something in the beginning of the game can have a direct impact on the end of the game, just like life. 

Why is it important to grow a sport that has traditionally been male-dominated?
I’ve always been a shy person. Being able to play on the field with men since I was a kid, playing both soccer and football, I can walk into a situation and not be scared. I know I can hold my own. I have the ability to play football and get hit, stand up and walk away and laugh with my friends afterward. I think it’s a great learning opportunity for any female to find out what she is made of. Personally, as an adult, playing co-ed sports has helped me so much in life. I like to think that I am able to give that learning experience back to women who never had the opportunity. I am very proud of that. I ran into an old football coach recently, a true man’s man, and he thought it was the best thing he ever heard, helping to developing a league that teaches, promotes inclusion and is open to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or athletic ability. 

Interview by Jeff Woodard

Bill Doyle lives in city where sailing is 'sport of choice'

City: Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Event: Sailing

How long have you been involved with sailing?
My partner, Jed, and I have been sailing and collecting antique sailing yachts for more than 25 years. We became active racers, competing mostly at the club level, and occasionally in larger, more significant events. Coming from Newport RI, where the sport of choice is sailboat racing, club level can best be described as one small step below professional. We regularly compete alongside world champions and America's Cup veterans, which can be pretty humbling.

What was it like sailing as a gay couple? Was there a reaction, one way or another, from other Newport sailors?
We burst on the Newport sailing scene as a couple in the ’80s,  while we were both quite young. While I would describe our “look” to be something like "Preppy Yacht Club Conservative," we did nothing to hide that we were partners right from the beginning. People took notice as we began winning races and, of course, because we always had the best-dressed crew — all in matching outfits! The community responded well, and I am proud that a town usually (incorrectly) perceived as very clenched-jaw conservative, has been nothing but open and accepting. Since then, other sailors, including some pros, have come out and confided in us that they believed we were real ground-breakers in the yachting community, simply by doing what we loved and being who we were.

What was your first involvement with the Gay Games?
With the Sydney Gay Games in 2002, we learned at a very late date (after it was sold out!) that sailing was included. We were fortunate to have the chance to be a last-minute replacement crew for a team that withdrew. With barely a month's notice, we flew down. They assigned a random sailor to race with us on opening day of competition. With no practice, never having worked together as a team, and never before stepping on the boats we were using, we figured it out, with respectable results. We won a few races, proceeded through several knockout rounds, but did not place in the finals.

How did you fare in subsequent Gay Games?
For the Chicago games in 2006, we were more prepared. The type of boat used was to be the same as the ones used in a local sailing center here in Newport, so we trained hard and it showed. We completed the regatta with a perfect record and took home the gold. At the Cologne games in 2010 — with sailing actually taking place in the Netherlands — we again entered "Team Newport;" this time with more modest expectations.
Throughout the week, we were mediocre at best, but for the finals we applied everything we learned. With a huge dose of luck, we again took home the gold. This surprised everybody — including us!

How is the sailing event shaping up for the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland?
When people think of Cleveland, sailing isn’t the first sport to come to mind. In reality, it’s one of the Midwest’s sailing capitals, with beautiful Lake Erie and plenty of boats right outside its door. It took a little extra time getting everything pulled together, but now, with Tartan Yacht’s partnership, along with the prestigious Edgewater Yacht Club acting as our host and race managers, this is shaping up to be a world-class regatta.

Sailing has historically been the first Gay Games event to completely sell out of available spots; sometimes two years in advance. I understand we’re gaining registrations quickly. So to any sailors out there, I’d say sign up soon!

What would you say about the Gay Games to someone who’s never heard of them? 
I think I’d tell them it’s not only an amazing experience to meet so many people from around the world with the same sports interest, but also that there’s something in the competitions for everyone – from recreational, all the way up to serious, world-class levels for every sport. For us, we’ve found that some people assume the sailing will be pretty amateur, only to be blown away (pardon the sailing pun) when they realize there are real, top-notch sailors involved.

What’s in the future for you and your partner?
Together for 28 years, my partner, Jed, and I hope to be married soon as our home state, Rhode Island, recently passed marriage equality.

Interview by Craig Williams

Ted Wammes works for equality by day and inclusion by evenings and weekends

City: Cleveland, Ohio
Event: Road Races (hopeful)

Ted Wammes works for equality and inclusion personally and professionally. Earlier this month, Ted was recognized for all his efforts by the U.S. Department of Education and Cleveland Federal Executive Board.

Ted chairs the 2014 Gay Games Operations Committee and serves on the board. He spends his weekdays working for the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in schools and ensuring equal access to education.

"I’ve been involved with the 2014 Gay Games since planning for the site selection visit in summer 2009. I attended Cologne in 2010. In 2014, if I have time while working on operations I hope to participate in the road races,” Wammes says.

The Gay Games Operations Committee covers housing/hotels, medical, security and transportation support. It also handles medal design and production accreditation and other logistical support to put on the 2014 Gay Games.

Kudos to Ted for his professional and community service honors at the Cleveland Executive Board’s annual Wings of Excellence honors program.

Gold medal in morning, Carnegie Hall at night at '94 Games for Jerry Lewis

City: Seattle, Washington
Event: Track

When Jerry Lewis came out in 1991, he joined the Seattle Frontrunners Club and was accepted to sing in the Seattle Men's Chorus. "Those two organizations helped me get through the difficult transition at the time," he says.

Three years later the chorus was invited to sign at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of Stonewall's 25th anniversary. A fellow chorus member and runner suggested Jerry register to run the 5K race for the 1994 Gay Games being held in New York at the same time. "I did not have any idea what the Gay Games was then. I decided if I was going to do it, I would follow my friend," Jerry recounts.

"We ran the morning of June 24, and to my surprise, I won a gold medal. That evening I sang with my chorus at Carnegie Hall with my medal around my neck.

"Stepping onto Carnegie Hall stage for the first time and wearing my Gay Games medal around my neck on my tuxedo was a thrill beyond words," he says. "We sang a 40-minute concert and received four standing ovations.

"I really felt a part of the gay community and was so proud to be who I was and to accomplish these things only three years after I came out."

Jerry, now 77, has participated in every Gay Games since, meeting and making friends from all over the world. The father of two daughters (marathon runners) and 11 grandchildren says competing in international meets is a dream he never envisioned as a young man. At the 2014 Gay Games, Jerry plans to enjoy the spirit of competition and doing his personal best on the track at the University of Akron.

From the beginning, Jim Hahn was there

Age: 52
City: San Mateo, California
Sport: Bowling

In 1982, the Gay Games began in San Francisco. Jim Hahn was there and has participated in every Gay Games since.

How did you end up going to the first Gay Games?

In 1981, I went to a gay student's conference at San Francisco State University. There I met Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the games. He convinced me that I had to participate. The thing that impressed me the most was the absolute absence of any shadow of a doubt that this was going to come off exactly as he envisioned.

I recognized the Gay Olympics as a history-making event and set about figuring out how to attend. As a poor college student, this was a challenge. I saved up $28 to buy a bowling shirt with Davis, California on the back. I arranged for housing, with a delightful man I knew as JJ.

What do you remember most about that first Gay Games?

In the procession of athletes going into Kezar stadium, I was between a billards team from Daly City, California, and another bowling team from East Palo Alto. We walked into the stadium while approximately 6,000 people stomped, clapped and jumped for joy.

Tom Waddell spoke first, but couldn't say the word Olympic as he was barred by the decision against the Gay Games by the USOC, a decision handed down by the same Judge Vaughn Walker who recently struck down Proposition 8. Another executive spoke next. Next was San Francisco Supervisor Doris Ward, acting mayor, as Dianne Feinstein and Supervisor President John Barbagelota where both conveniently out of town. She welcomed all of us to the first Gay Olympic Games. The stadium went nuts! They went nuts again when our opening act, Tina Turner, took the stage.

I bowled a 582 series for singles and placed 18th, entitling me to participate in the semi-finals. Later that day, however, I learned that my favorite grandparent had passed away the day before. During my journey to Oregon, I ended up in a cab with some of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, including Gilbert Baker, the creator of the rainbow flag.

What do you get out of being a Gay Games participant?

What I get out of it is the sense of pride in our culture and our community and a deep sense of history.

Rob Smitherman Goes with the Games

Interviewer: Craig Williams

Rob Smitherman, associate executive director for the 2014 Gay Games Cleveland+Akron, has been following the Games for 14 years. Literally following them. He answers questions about his connection to the Games, and what he feels are the benefits and challenges surrounding them.

When did you first get involved with the Games?

My first experience was during the Amsterdam games in 1998. I was just a participant, playing basketball. I enjoyed it so much that I participated again, at GG6 in Sydney, Australia. I’d always loved sports, but I’d never actively organized any events.

So, how did you come to be employed by the Games?

I’d been working as an attorney in a small town in Virginia. After 23 years doing that, I decided I wanted to move into a different career. Around that time, I contacted my friend, Sam Coady, who was co-chair of the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. Sam said, “Why don’t you come work for us?” So that’s what I did.

What are the most satisfying aspects of the Games for you, and what would you say to anyone thinking of participating for the first time?

The best thing about the Games is that, for the LGBT community, it connects two very important aspects of their lives: their love of sports and a celebration of their sexual identity. The biggest challenge is getting people to attend for the first time. When they do, many find that this is one of the most important events they’ve ever been involved with. That’s why people keep coming back again and again.

The Gay Games aren’t only for the LGBT community. They’re open to anyone, right?

Everyone is welcome. The important part of this for straight people is that it’s not only good fun and a chance to take part in sporting events, but there’s also a connection they can make with friends in their community. They can see the gay population isn’t made up of the stereotypes they might see on TV; we’re their neighbors. This event isn’t only about sports, it’s also about helping to promote change.

How did your affiliation with the Games continue after Chicago?

I continued working for the games, on a volunteer basis, for about a year. The eighth games were coming up in Cologne, Germany. In Chicago, I’d already met some of the German organizers, who eventually asked me to come help with their event.

What kind of experience did you have working as sports manager in Germany?

Germany was an adventure in all kinds of ways. The GG office was on Rudolfplatz, in the center of the gay area of downtown Cologne. It was wonderful, of course, but working in a foreign country can also be very lonely, especially when you aren’t familiar with the language. My college German was really rusty at first, but I managed, and it was a fantastic experience.

How did you make the transition from the Cologne games to the Cleveland+Akron Games?

I went back to Chicago for a while, but in May 2011, after Northeast Ohio was chosen to host GG9, I was asked to come to Cleveland to participate in a roundtable type discussion about the trials and successes of past games. In Cleveland, I met and began working with Tom Nobbe, who became the GG9 executive director. I knew I wanted to work as sports manager in Cleveland, and ultimately I was asked, I accepted, and moved to Cleveland. (Most recently, Rob had associate director added to his title.)

What are the benefits of Cleveland +Akron hosting the Games?

Actually, I think I may be more enthusiastic about the area than some of the natives. We won getting the Games here because of our outstanding facilities, a lot of which are only a short walk, drive or bus ride from the downtown areas. We have beaches, great art venues, Playhouse Square, West Side Market, Michael Symon, food trucks and so much more.

And what are the challenges?

Northeast Ohio is not as well known as tourist destination. A lot of people around the world don’t even know where Cleveland and Akron are. We need to let them know more about the locations and, not only introduce them to all we have to offer, but convince them they’ll enjoy themselves in Northeast Ohio for a week or so.

That shouldn’t be hard because this is a really great place to be. It’s our chance to show the world we can host a major event – a gay event – and do it successfully.

First Gay Games 9 Registrant Hails from Europe

Interviewer: Betsy O'Connell

Marathon runner Aliona Netesova, 24, was the first participant to register for the 2014 Gay Games Cleveland+Akron.

Where do you live?

Vilnius, Lithuania. Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city.

Why are you coming to Gay Games 9 in Cleveland?

Lithuania is a post-Soviet country with a high level of homophobia. LGBT people stay in the closet, which is why support and visibility is so important. I hope that my participation in the Gay Games will help shape the LGBT sporting community in Lithuania, and to encourage gay athletes coming out. It will be a great event for me and my country. I'll be Lithuania's second gay athlete to participate in Gay Games.

What is your athletic background?

I played with a Lithuanian women's football league and represented the Lithuanian U-19. When I played football in Lithuania, I hid that I am a lesbian. Games in our country for both amateurs and professionals discourage homosexuals from participation in a large part because of the Lithuanian negative attitude about homosexuals.

I came out five years ago, and my family and friends know that I am a lesbian. By participating in Gay Games 9, I want to encourage other athletes to join our sports community and not fear coming out.

When did you run your first marathon?

I ran my first marathon on June 2 (2012) in Stockholm. I have run 5K and 10K races in the past.

Are there organizations in Lithuania helping to sponsor your trip to Gay Games 9?

I am paying my travel costs and I am coming to the games by myself.

Every participant has a story to share about why they are part of the Gay Games. Want to share your story? Contact us at