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Memories, medals bring joy to Chicagoans at Gay Games in Paris
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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As the traditional flag moved from Paris 2018 to Hong Kong 2022, thus ending the 10th version of the Gay Games on Sunday, Aug. 12, there were plenty of tears—of pride and joy, not just sadness that the quadrennial sports and cultural extravaganza had come to an end.

The closing ceremony was held in the Parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville with more than 5,000 participants and volunteers attending.

The Paris 2018 Games spanned nine days, with a variety of sports, culture and festivities—and more than 13,000 participants, including 10,000 athletes and about 3,000 volunteers. Plus, more than 200 media from 30 countries covered the Paris Games, organizers said.

Chicago was represented by more than 170 participants in Paris, and many returned to O'Hare International Airport with gold, silver and/or bronze medals.

Dawn Barcus, for instance, won the bronze in the 5K race.

"I was thrilled to win my medal," said Barcus, 49, who competed in the 5K race, the 10K race, and the half marathon, representing Chicago Frontrunners. "There's got to be a video somewhere, which I would love to show my mom.

"You would have thought I'd won the race rather than [finishing in] third-place in the 'middle-age woman' division. The race was in a beautiful, very hilly park and it was raining. I finished, said hey to the Chicago Frontrunners, photographed my results and left the venue. I got on the train, showed my results to some other runners who said, 'You should go back.' So I did.

"When I was called up to the podium, I jumped up and down the whole time and couldn't stop smiling. I've done well in other races and certainly did not run my fastest, but it was the Gay Games. It was so moving. Few of my friends were still there, but everyone in the crowd cheered and cheered. In fact at the next event, I was recognized as the very excited Chicagoan who won a medal."

This was Barcus' third Games, following Cleveland and Chicago.

Russ Klettke won silver in the triathlon, in the men 60-64 division, though he was three days shy of turning 60.

"The Paris Gay Games were my fifth since 1990, and they are always an affirming experience," Klettke said. "Meeting gay triathletes from a few dozen other countries reminds me we're all just one species with shared interests and a lot to give to the world.

"When the Russian team entered the stadium at the Opening Ceremonies, there was an elevated applause. At first I thought, 'Russia? They're the bad guys.' And then I remembered that LGBT Russians are under a lot of threat right now. What a brave act for them to be here."

Klettke added, "They performed 'This is Me' from the movie The Greatest Showman at the closing ceremonies. I'm probably the last gay guy who never heard it before that night and it brought me to tears. The song sums it up for me: Being an aging gay triathlete is kind of a quirky thing, and there were many hard things that happened along the way, but it's exactly who I am and who I want to be."

Mel Ferrand traveled overseas with the four-star Chicago flag, and returned with two bronze tennis medals, in mixed and women's doubles.

Josh Bradley spends his summer Sunday's playing softball in the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ), and that paid off in Paris. He won silver in slow-pitch and gold on a fast-pitch team. "I'm so proud of my teammates," he said.

Steve Figg grabbed three diving gold medals.

Brian Gilbert scored diving bronze.

"Gay Games X in Paris was an amazing experience," said Figg, of Windy City Diving. "What a privilege to compete internationally. I can't wait for Hong Kong 2022."

Even without a medal, memories were plentiful for the Chicago contingent.

Jackie Kaplan-Perkins and Ann Kaplan-Perkins competed in the triathlon in Paris, with their son, David.

"David competed, too—just finished way before us," Ann said. "It was a beautiful course and a great day."

Bernard T. Bartilad, 50, also participated in the triathlon ( Olympic distance ) and though he didn't win a medal, he beat his goal-time of 3:30, finishing in 3:25.

"We always look forward to the Gay Games where we all get together celebrating diversity, culture, friendships and love of sports. Having it Paris was so special since it's one of my favorite cities," Bartilad said. "This is the first time I competed in a triathlon outside the U.S. and it's in Paris, how awesome is that. This also was a milestone since it was the first time I swam without a wetsuit, which was a little bit worrying, but it worked out well."

Bartilad was joined overseas by his husband, Michael Herman, and their son, Adam, 11.

Herman actually won gold in ballroom dance and it was Adam's second Gay Games as a spectator.

"[Adam] joined us in Cleveland in 2014, where he got hooked on the Games. He can't wait to participate in Gay Games 2026," Bartilad said.

The three walked together in the Paris Opening Ceremony, "which will always be memorable," Bartilad added.

Bartilad also was joined in Paris by his sister, Rose, and brother-in-law Cid—for their first Games experience. "They had a blast," Bartilad said. "Truly, the Gay Games brings people together."

The Paris event was the fifth Games for Bartilad.

"I will always remember the Paris Games because of Paris and we were with friends and family celebrating the Games and the city," he said. "We meet friends who are now part of our family.

"Thank you to the organizers of the Paris Gay Games and the Federation of Gay Games for a job well done. We look forward to participating in Hong Kong Gay Games in 2022."

Eric Lueshen, of Chicago, said the Paris Games brought him "an overwhelming sense of joy and contentment—from achieving goals many told me were impossible due to health conditions I've been through and continue to suffer, to seeing beautiful sights, and to hanging out and meeting many old friends and new."

Lueshen won gold in the high jump, and two silver.

"Back surgery, neuromuscular disorder, and other injuries couldn't stop me from achieving a goal I set four years ago as I watched as a spectator at the Cleveland Gay Games," Lueshen said. "When doctors told me 13 years ago that I'd never play sports again, I let their fears dictate my life for 11 years. I'm forever proud of realizing that I am way stronger than I could have imagined and said yes to playing beach volleyball and getting back into competitive sports again two years ago. This has been a very emotional journey for me, and I'm grateful for all of it."

Lueshen added, "Just being able to compete again has been one of the biggest wins of my life. Bringing home three medals ( silver in both discus and shotput ) is the icing on the cake. Sports have always held a special place in my heart. Competing again has filled a void and made me feel more whole again. I will forever cherish my experiences at the Paris Gay Games, and I look forward to defending my high jump gold medal at the Hong Kong Gay Games in 2022."

Mickael Simon was among a group of competitors representing the Team To End AIDS, an endurance-sports program of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ). He ran the 13.1-mile Half Marathon, finishing with a PR ( Personal Record ), cutting five minutes off his personal best time. "What a great week it [was]," Simon said.

He finished in 1.32.16, placing 46th overall, 43rd among male and 13th in his age category—and with plenty of pride.

LeMikas Lavender also represented T2 in Paris—in running and swimming events. "Had an amazing half-marathon, with the Arc de Triomphe as the backdrop," he said.

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