5 min

Rediscovering his inner eight-year-old

Ricardo Nuno won't be surprised if he crosses the finish line crying

LET THE GAMES BEGIN: Ricardo Nuno says he's loved the feeling of running ever since he participated in the Pint-Sized Olympics as a child. But he left the track in high school after jocks started taun Credit: TJ Ngan Photo

The upcoming Gay Games and Outgames mean different things to different people. To some, the games are simply a good time; a way to break a sweat and a smile. But to others, like 39-year-old Ricardo Nuno of Vancouver, the games are a way to finally compete in an environment where he’ll feel comfortable.

“I hated what jocks represented [in high school] because the slanders came more from the jocks, and so athleticism became associated with the slanders to me,” says Nuno. “I didn’t want any part of it. I avoided it like the plague; to the point where I was really intimidated by anyone who was athletic.”

Nuno, who will be competing in the 10K run, will be one of dozens of Vancouver athletes headed to the first-ever Outgames in Montreal this July.

The Ontario native took to sports at an early age.

“My first introduction to sports that I remember liking was when I was eight years old. In June, near the end of the school year, we had these Pint-Sized Olympics,” Nuno recalls. “You had to do all these obstacle courses, running under chairs–I loved it. I thought it was the best thing in the entire world.

“I looked forward to it the whole school year,” he continues. “I would just fly through all these obstacles. We were there just to have fun and I remember winning first place a lot. I remember thinking: I love this. I love running. I loved the feeling of being ahead of the pack, jumping around, having fun.

“That was my first real athletic memory. The rest of them are a bit sour.”

Like countless other gay and lesbian athletes, high school wouldn’t hold the same appeal when it came to sports.

“Then I entered junior high and I was definitely not a regular kid. I started realizing that kids were picking on me and the word fag started coming out a lot. I started to dislike gym class because that was when I was the most picked [on], especially from the jocks.

Like most gay or questioning youth, Nuno didn’t speak out. But he did try to fight back in his own way.

“I remember one day we had a track event, a relay race, and I still liked to run, so I decided to start giving it to them like crazy,” remembers Nuno. “The gym teacher saw me and said, ‘Who is that? We have to get him on the track team. We need him to represent our school.'”

Nuno had a choice to make: join the jocks and follow his passion of running and competing–but risk getting beaten up or exposed or worse–or play it safe.

“I already knew who was on the team: it was the jocks that called me faggot,” says Nuno. “There was no way I was going to join that team. The coach kept bugging me, but I kept saying no.

“I didn’t feel I could talk to him and tell him why I didn’t want to join,” Nuno continues. “There was no way because then I would have to explain what they were calling me, and that’s just too embarrassing for a kid that age.

“There were two guys in particular who kept looking at me and saying, ‘You had better not join the team,'” he recalls. “They were basically threatening me.”

With all athletic avenues now seemingly closed to him, Nuno focused on music during his teen years. He wouldn’t rediscover running until many years later.

“From my teen years, even into my early 20s, I had nothing whatsoever to do with athletics,” says Nuno. “I never even considered joining the track team in high school. I was terrified. I hated the idea of even being around them.

“I ended up being the geek that played clarinet in junior and senior orchestra and band. I didn’t even run on my own.

“I had a desire to do something athletic and I loved going to the pool with my friends–as long as it was a neutral sort of setting and there were no other hardcore jocks around. I never ran on my own.”

It took the catharsis of coming out to steer Nuno back to athletics, but it wasn’t running that initially reopened the door.

“In my 20s, I was coming out and I started going to the YMCA and I discovered aerobics. This was back in the ’80s when aerobics were huge. It finally clicked that this is how I can be athletic again and still be myself and enjoy it.

“They also had an indoor track there and I started using that,” Nuno continues. “I heard about the Terry Fox Run and decided to do that. It was very emotional for me. Towards the end, I was bawling. I finished it and it really helped me realize that just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I can’t be athletic. It was a real amazing feat for me.”

Having at last found his way back to the track, Nuno began to run regularly on his own again and signed up for all the runs he could, including Vancouver’s Sun Run. But he still felt hesitant about joining any kind of group or association.

Then he discovered the Gay Games in 2002. Nuno finally felt comfortable enough to want to be athletic in a group setting again.

“When I started hearing about the Gay Games in Sydney, I remember really regretting not being a part of it. I thought, ‘Here is my chance to run and not be called a faggot and actually want to be part of a group.’

“I decided that I needed to compete in the next games and I chose to do the Outgames in Montreal. It’s great to know that I won’t feel intimidated or belittled; instead, I’ll feel like that eight-year-old kid again. I won’t be surprised if I start bawling once I cross the finish line.”

For Nuno, the upcoming Gay Games in Chicago (Jul 15-22) and the Montreal Outgames (Jul 26-Aug 5) are the ultimate stage for queer athletes to give their all without getting anything but cheers in return.

“I think for so many gay men, the word athletic and the word gay is an oxymoron,” explains Nuno. “I think it’s a wonderful way for us to show the rest of the world that we’re just like everyone else, that you can be out and be athletic and competitive and do amazing things.”

But competing is only one aspect of the Gay Games and Outgames. Finally feeling like you belong to a team can be an even stronger attraction for many athletes. Retired superstars like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky have been quoted saying that as much as they miss competing, they miss being around their teammates even more.

“I’m a member of Team Vancouver,” says Nuno. “I wanted to be part of a team and show up on the field wearing a uniform and be part of a group. It’s so important to belong. I’m looking forward to the camaraderie almost as much as competing. I’m so excited about the people I’m going to meet, the patting on the back, or on the butt. I think there is going to be huge support there, even from the other competitors.

“I think it is something very personal,” he adds. “I’m approaching 40 and it’s important for me to do something like this. It’s going to be a notch in my personal goals.”

Unfortunately, like many gay athletes around the world this year, Nuno had to make a choice between the games in Chicago and the games in Montreal. Nuno says for him, the choice was easy.

“The reason I chose Montreal over Chicago was basically, it’s in Canada. I’m Canadian, I love Montreal, I’m aware of the fact that Mark Tewksbury–a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming–is very much involved in the Outgames in Montreal. I have good friends there and wonderful memories, so it wasn’t a hard choice.”

Having recently competed in this year’s Vancouver Sun Run on Apr 23, Nuno is now closing in on his goal of competing in Montreal. He says he hopes the games show the world just how incredible the international queer community really is.

“I’m thrilled to be part of something as big as this, something that’s going to be getting this much attention, and I can’t wait to show the world that being gay is just a label and we can be just as successful in anything as anyone else, whether it’s sports or professional lives or anything else,” says Nuno.