Ayrton Kasemets, a Chicago-area native who is a junior swimming for Oakland University, received the school's Courage Award at the annual end of the last school year's Black and Gold Awards Ceremony.
Kasemets, who competes for Oakland in the breaststroke and individual medley ( IM ), was recognized for being openly gay.
He said the award brings "extreme gratitude and pride," adding that he is not the only courageous one. "My team is courageous for being so accepting of anyone who comes to the team. We work hard at including every person," said Kasemets, whose IM races means he swims all four strokes: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle ( in that order ).
"There is a reoccurring joke on the team that my [nickname] is 'Hollywood,' so when I won the award, a lot of the guys were cheering 'Hollywood.'"
Kasemets, 20, graduated from Mundelein High School in 2014, where he was on the swimming and water polo teams. He earned All-American and All-State swimming accolades and All-State water polo recognition.
After graduating from high school, Kasemets came out to his parentstelling his mom as they were making dinner one night and confirming to his dad when asked on a trip to the store.
"I never even thought about [coming out] during high school. It wasn't ever an issue, but when I was headed to swim at Oakland, I had to make sure that I was myself around the team so they can be themselves around me. It is only fair," Kasemets said.
He said neither of his parents were surprised, and both have always been supportive.
"My mom wanted to make sure that I was confident in myself [and] my dad expressed to me that he loves me even more," Kasemets said. "I never tackled those feeling [about my sexual orientation while] in high school. I was there to study, swim and get into college."
He opted for Oakland because the school in Michigan has "a great combination of athletics and academics," he said. "I wanted to go to a school with a long tradition of winning and a culture of acceptance. I felt the most comfortable with the team on my visit."
Kasemets came out to his Oakland teammates and coaches during the second weekend of his freshman year at a camping trip, with his teammates around a bonfire.
He has received only positives reaction from Oakland. "A lot of the guys came up to me as we were cleaning up, [to tell] me that they support me and that they are proud of me."
Kasemets said being out at Oakland "has affected me in an extremely positive way," he said. "I get to be myself every single day at the pool, so I can only focus on getting better and challenging myself along with my teammates."
Kasemets said his coming-out was not a surprise in Mundelein, nor an issue. He's only received "positive responses" from his suburban hometown.
Kasemets is shooting for two NCAA 'B' cuts next season, and also to represent Estonia at the World University Games. So this summer, he will be working and swimming, and swimming some more, lots more. "[I am] working on getting stronger and tougher for next season so I can accomplish my goals," he said.
Kasemets, a member of the Sports Equality Foundation Youth Advisory Council, marched in the annual Chicago Pride Parade June 26 in the Nike float/entry.
"There is no better time to come out than the time that you feel is right," he said before the parade. "You will be surprised with how much support and love is in the world for people who need it. Most of the time, people won't even be surprised. It is getting harder and harder not to be open since being gay is becoming so visible."