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  WINDY CITY TIMES

SPORTS Amazin LeThi: On journeys of emotional and physical strength
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2020-07-12

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Amazin LeThi was a young adult in London when she hit rock bottom: She was homeless, living in and out of shelters for a couple years. She was suicidal and battling mental health issues.

LeThi told Windy City Times she slept for basically two days straight, then finally woke up on the third day crying, in the fetal position at the shelter. "I just thought, 'What has become of my life?'" LeThi said in a late-June interview.

Despite her woes at the time, she said she knew "I had so much more to give, even though I didn't know exactly what that was."

She reached into her sporting background for strength, courage, advice, and help.

Sports was her anchor, to help pull herself out.

"I came out stronger in the end, more resilient. And I knew, if I could get over the hard point in her life, everything else is easy she said. "Sports give you a specific mindset. Athletes often really must push past the pain. Sports definitely helped me survive."

LeThi was born in Saigon and left in an orphanage by her mother. She said that, as a youngster, she was regularly bullied because she is Asian and kids thought she was different. In addition, "I was very confused with my own sexuality, so I [endured] a lot of gay slurs," she said.

She added, "I felt very alone and isolated [as a child]—I never saw an Asian person on TV or in the media, [and] never saw an LGBT person. I really thought I was the only Asian LGBT person in the world."

At age 6, she turned to weight training which led to bodybuilding—and she was quite successful as a competitive natural bodybuilder, such that:

—In 2014, she was the first Asian ambassador for Athlete Ally.

—In 2018, she was named one of four Asian LGBTQ athletes accelerating sports equality by the American National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance along with becoming the first openly out Asian athlete to appear in the Stonewall UK "Rainbow Laces Campaign."

—In 2019, she was among the Out 100 List and became the first Asian Sport Champion ( Ambassador ) for Stonewall UK's new Sports Champion Ambassador Program.

—In early March, she became the first Asian LGBTQ athlete to be honored at the Brooklyn Nets' 4th Annual Pride Night and had the "Game Ball Delivery" honor.

That Nets' game replaced a speaking appearance she was to have made in Chicago. LeThi also was to have appeared in Chicago on June 30, as the Australian and Irish consulates of Chicago had a Pride Month event planned, but that was changed to a virtual panel due to the coronavirus pandemic. [Note: Windy City Times covered that event.] The event celebrated the marriage-equality campaigns of both countries and included a discussion on the ongoing work to further equality for the LGBTQIA+ community.

LeThi was chosen to discuss her journey and her experience.

"With everything that's happening now in the world, there are very different conversations around athlete activism, what activism looks like, how governments and businesses need to pivot," she said, describing the June 30 event as "really good."

She added, "Governments have a responsibility to have these kinds of conversations around LGBTQ equality in the countries that they're working in. And there's a lot we can learn from Ireland and Australia.

"The conversation [June 30] was so important because we have to look at the milestones that we have had in the community, and one of them has been marriage equality. But we also need to look at what else needs to be done.

"People were able to hear about other countries and the successes they are having—and that gives us hope [and motivation]."

LeThi has been a worldwide activist for the LGBTQ community, anchored around her athletic background. Sure, she no longer competes in bodybuilding, but now serves as a strength coach. Plus, she has been training for competitive shooting.

"I never expected my career in sports and activism to be the career that I have.

I just wanted to share my story, especially as an Asian in sports," said LeThi, whose Pride Month was filled with worldwide on LGBT rights and more, always anchored around sport.

"We're at a really interesting place because of the Black Lives Matter movement," she added. "We have never seen athlete activism united in the way that we would have hoped. And Asian LGBTQ equality in sports is one of the last frontiers, along with trans athletes' rights."

LeThi noted that the next two years are key for the Asian community, particularly from a sporting perspective. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were, of course, pushed to 2021. And, in 2022, many more major sporting events are slated to be held in Asian countries, including the Commonwealth Games, the Beijing Olympics, a Formula One race, the World Cup and the Gay Games.

"These next few years, we have a moment to shine as an Asian community, with the whole world watching," she said. "If we fall flat on our place at Tokyo 2021 around these [LGBT] discussions, what will that look like going into 2022?!

"It is so important, especially personally as I think back to my childhood. For Asian LGBTQ kids who are struggling with their sexuality and gender identity to see a major sporting event, in Asian, and see a strong representation [of LGBT] en masse. That will send a ripple across the world."

LeThi is shooting for a spot at a future Olympics, representing her native Vietnam. She's finished her competitive bodybuilding career. "I have accomplished what I wanted to [in bodybuilding], but there is so much more to do in a new sport.

"Sports have always been my first passion. I cannot see a life [for me] without sports, and sports is a language that everyone understands. Coming out of the pandemic, we really need to use sports to bring everyone together."

For more about LeThi, visit AmazinLethi.com . She is on Twitter and Instagram @amazinlethi, and is on Facebook as well.


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