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Chicago lesbian softball player talks about '08 Olympics
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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The London Olympics brought a whirlwind of emotions for Lauren Lappin, who lives in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood and was a silver medalist at the 2008 Games in Beijing, China.

The thing is, Lappin's sport—softball—was removed from the 2012 Summer Olympics' slate, along with baseball, becoming the first sports removed from the Olympics since polo in 1936.

"At first, [the London Games were] really hard to watch," Lappin admitted. "It's really hard to swallow, to not experience that again. It's pretty depressing, to be perfectly honest."

Softball was an Olympic sport four times, starting in 1996, and the United States won gold the first three times. Lappin's year, 2008, the top honor went to Japan, followed by the United States, and Australia captured the bronze.

Japan defeated the United States 3-1 in the 2008 finals.

The '08 Games also were a memorable ride for Lappin off the field, starting about a month before the event when The Advocate interviewed her for a story about bisexual teammate Vicky Galindo. That story revealed, for the first time publicly, that Lappin is a lesbian herself. The story went public days before the Olympic cauldron was lit in 2008.

Lappin was not planning to come out publicly at the time and didn't think it would be that big of a deal, she said.

However, at a major pre-Olympic press conference, Lappin was immediately questioned about her sexual orientation. She revealed a candid interview about her coming-out.

"I think that was the best decision I've ever made—for me personally and anyone who I could have helped along the way," Lappin said. "I took advantage of the opportunity to tell my story, [about] being a lesbian and coming to terms with my sexuality."

Lappin, now 28, was a two-position player for Stanford University during 2002-2006. She was a member of the USA National Elite Team in 2003 and 2005, and was an alternate for the U.S. Olympic team in 2004.

"I figured out that I was gay during college, like a lot of people do," Lappin said. "It was a process coming to terms with it, being OK with it. I didn't fit the stereotype, which is being shot down daily because, obviously, we come from all walks of life. Realizing late in college that, yes, I was gay was tough to come to terms with. On one hand, I was happy that I figured it out, but, on the other hand, I knew I would be facing the coming-out process and actually having to verbalize the fact that I'm gay to my parents, to my family, to friends."

Ultimately, everyone has been supportive, she said.

"My family was most concerned with my well-being, not wanting me to experience discrimination or anything like that, based on my sexuality," she said. "[My family] has been so supportive of me, and continue to be to this day. I'm really lucky.

"Professionally, in my [sport], coming to terms with my sexuality has kind of freed me, so I've been able to be the best version of myself, really focus on my training, focusing on improving my softball and just be a better spokesman for our sport. And I don't think I could do it if I was still figuring myself out, or living a hidden life."

However, after telling her story to the media before the Beijing Games started, there was still one issue—her parents.

They had known since her senior year at Stanford that she's gay; they just didn't know that she'd be sharing that information with the world.

Her parents were in Beijing at the time, and Lappin told them quickly about the interview—and the fact her sexual orientation was, likely, going to be public news, not just personal information.

"My parents definitely were not thrilled" with the timing of her public coming-out, she said.

"I was scared that the whole world was going to know, but, at the same time, I knew in my gut that it was the right thing to do," she added. "How are we ever going to progress as a society if we don't share our stories, and I just wanted people to know that I'm just another human being like everyone else; I just prefer women and I'm going to marry a woman [one day.] That doesn't have any barring on my character in my profession."

Lappin said her family now "embraces and accepts my sexuality. They are so unbelievably proud of me and my partner, where I am at in life."

Lappin and Shannon Shakespeare have known each other for five years and now been dating for about two years. Shakespeare is a lawyer and the two live together.

"Being gay at this level [of softball professionally] and with Team USA, well, all of my teammates, [those who are] gay and straight, are very accepting. We talk about my relationship like how we talk about straight teammates and their boyfriends," Lappin said.

My kind of town

Born and raised in Southern California, Lappin wanted to leave the West Coast after graduating from Stanford University. She was offered a job as a volunteer coach for the Northwestern University softball team—and she jumped at the chance, in order to gain some coaching experience.

She stayed with the Wildcats for two seasons, 2009 and 2010.

She has since "clearly fallen in love" with Chicago.

"Northwestern was a phenomenal experience," she said. "To get some [coaching] experience under some great coaches who also are really good leaders, that set the groundwork for any future I may have in coaching when I retire as a player. I loved the Northwestern softball experience; the university is exceptional, obviously. The student-athletes are very similar to the student-athletes I was used to at Stanford where academics also are a very high priority. Northwestern was, overall, a really great experience.

"I love the people of Chicago; they are very warm and welcoming. I also love the weather, though that sounds crazy. Being a California girl, I really enjoy the spring and fall [in Chicago.] Even the first couple of snowfalls are fun. I also really like all of the live music [options] and experiencing so many different types of food.

"I love the summer vibe of Chicago, with street festivals and so much more."

Lappin is now in her second season playing professionally in Japan. She also plays for the USSSA Pride in the four-team National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), the league that also features the Chicago Bandits.

"Japan has been a phenomenal, phenomenal experience. I am very lucky to have had it," said Lappin. The Japanese season spans six months, with the season split in half.

"The Japanese culture is so welcoming. They have so much respect—for themselves and life in general," she said. "We bow to the field every day at practice, at the beginning and the end, to show appreciation for the field and for each other. I've grown a whole new level of respect for the game and for the opportunities that I have gotten through the game—Japan being one of them. It's taken my game to a whole new level, getting to play competitively for nine months of the year."

What about the language barrier?

Lappin laughed. "We make it work with charades and what not," she said. "I've gained some great friends through this [Japanese] journey."

Lappin went to Japan in early March to begin training with her team in preparation for the season that started in mid-April. In early June, she returned to the United States to begin play in the NPF.

The NPF Championship Series is slated for Aug. 23-26 in Rosemont.

She returns to Japan on Aug. 27 for about two months of play abroad.

"The NPF is phenomenal, especially in its current state," Lappin said. "We've really taken the competitiveness to a new level. There are four great teams, each with solid owners. The potential for expansion next year is there, probably by two more teams. This is the most competitive league and softball experience that I've ever had—and I've played in the College World Series and in the Olympics.

"We're just trying to offer an opportunity for women now playing in college, so professional softball is a viable option. The talent in the NPF is so deep. It's anyone's game anytime you step on the field."

Lappin said being gay is not an issue in either league, though she admits she was a bit nervous about how it would be accepted in Japan. After all, she had been out for six years before she first stepped on a field in Japan.

"I didn't want to lie or hide, or live a false life," while in Japan, she said. But Lappin is out to her teammates and coaches, and Shakespeare has visited her. "They all know and have been very accepting of [my sexual orientation]," Lappin said.

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