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Radford hopes to use his voice as an athlete to help other young gay people

12/04/2014 06:22 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Eric Radford's success on the ice doesn't end with a trip to the podium or a gold medal.

The 29-year-old figure skater hopes to use position as one of Canada's top athletes to help guide or inspire other young gay people.

"I feel so lucky that my skating is giving me a voice big enough for people to listen," Radford said Thursday.

In between Thursday morning's practice with pairs partner Meagan Duhamel and a physiotherapy appointment, Radford was conducting interviews to talk about his decision to come out. The two-time world championship bronze medallist publicly came out in an interview this week with "Outsports."

"There has always been a part inside of me that would have eventually, whether it was now or later," he said. "I want to use my talent in more than just one dimension. I have my talent, I'm a great skater with Meagan, and we've had a lot of success and hopefully we'll have more. But I want to use that as much as possible in every way, and I think that my story, and me just being myself as a gay man can possibly affect and help and in a way guide young gay people, not just athletes."

Radford has been open about the bullying he suffered growing up in Balmertown, Ont., a tiny town of 1,000 people — and one arena — that's a 28-hour drive from Toronto. Figure skating was a girl's sport, and his classmates let him know it.

"A lot of name-calling," Radford said in a previous interview. "Whenever there was a group and I was by myself, they'd always make fun of me. It was really hard. I just couldn't understand, I thought, 'All I'm doing is skating, it's not a big deal. Why does everybody have to hate me?'"

Radford thought about coming out before the Sochi Olympics, where Russia's anti-gay laws made headlines daily.

"It was (hard), I was so torn before," Radford said. "I didn't like feeling like that, because my main goal was my skating, I wasn't going over there to make a political statement, I had thought about maybe when I was done competing, when I didn't have that stress of competing anymore, I might make a statement or say something about it."

He chose this week to coincide with the Canadian Olympic Committee's announcement of its "OneTeam" athlete ambassador program. The initiative is part of the COC's new partnership with leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations as it aims to protect and support LGBTQ athletes, youth and coaches in sport and schools.

"I knew that I wanted to be a part of that, for obvious reasons," he said.

Radford and his boyfriend Normand, a triathlete, have been together four years, and with Normand's 14-year-old daughter the three have become a close family unit, the skater said.

When Radford returned home from Osaka, Japan, where he and Duhamel had captured their second straight Grand Prix title of the season last weekend, Normand's daughter had posted a sign on the front door: "Welcome home champion!"

"We get along so well. She's so supportive of my skating," Radford said. "I think just in the gay world to have that sort of responsibility is a little bit more of a rare thing, and I don't know if everybody would be up for the responsibility. I guess I feel proud of myself for that, learning about all that, and just embracing that opportunity."

Coming out publicly, he said, didn't feel like a huge deal. All his friends and virtually everyone in the skating world already knew. His parents, who've always been supportive, laughed and said 'Well everybody already knows anyway,'" Radford said.

But the skater said the sports world still trails the rest of society when it comes to the treatment of gay athletes.

"I think the tide is turning a little bit for gay athletes, I think the climate and the atmosphere is changing and making it less of a big deal for an athlete to come out and more comfortable for an athlete to come out," Radford said. "But I know each sport would have its own challenges. Like playing on a team, where you're with 20 other guys, it's going to be more challenging than for me when I'm out on the ice by myself and with Meagan. I can imagine the pressure is a lot more intense and you would feel a lot more uncomfortable.

"The fact that a team or fans don't know that an athlete is gay doesn't change the fact that they are. It's almost like just choosing not to see something even though it's there.

"I hope the day will come that it's not even an issue. It's about going out and being the best athlete you can be on the day, and race, religion, and sexual orientation will have nothing to do with it, and will not play a part in the way the athlete is perceived and that only their skill, and being a good human being in general, will determine how they're seen in the public eye."

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