In 2001, a year before his Olympic hopes were dashed due to injury, elite snowboarder Ryan Miller came out to the competitive snowboard world during a trip to Vancouver. Eight years later, with the Vancouver Winter Olympics just a month away, we caught up Ryan in his hometown of Denver, Colorado where he is still very much connected to the snowboard world with Outboard, the world’s largest gay and lesbian snowboard organization.
Named one of “100 Most Influential Gays and Lesbians” in 2001 by Advocate after his coming out, Ryan talks to us about snowboarding, coming out, being gay in a competitive sports environment and even Star Wars.
How long have you been snowboarding?
I first started riding 22 years ago in 1987 when I was 12 years old.
What drew you to the sport in the first place?
I grew up skiing at a small 200 vertical foot ski area in southeastern Pennsylvania every day. One day a friend had gotten one of the first Burton’s and brought it out and was promptly thrown off the mountain. Seeing patrol’s reaction got me interested and from there it was a matter of riding in the fields and working with patrol to allow supervised riding at the resort in non-peak hours.
Tell us about coming out. What was the catalyst? Why did you decide to come out when you did?
I came out in my second or third year of college. As I met more gay people I became more comfortable with who I was and decided that it was time to stop living a double life at home as it took way to much energy.
Was it a gradual coming out? In other words, were you out to anyone else (family, friends) before coming out as a gay snowborder?
It was a gradual thing for me. I came out to some friends first, then family, then co workers; coming out in the competitive snowboard world came last.
What was harder – coming out to your family and friends or coming out to your snowboarding teammates?
I think coming out to family/friends was actually harder. When I came out, I was coming out to people who’d known me all of my life in some cases and thus the perception of who I was would possibly be changing radically. When I came out in the competitive snowboard world I was relatively new, as were
my friendships, etc so the difficulty was somewhat less.
We read somewhere that Vancouver was the location of your coming out to your snowboarding team at the time. Can you tell us about that?
It was my first full season doing FIS (International Ski Federation) events and I was there for a Nor-Am at Whistler. We were spending the night in a hotel downtown before heading to Whistler and the team was going out for a night of fun. I already had some plans for the evening and one thing led to another as far as the team pushing to know why I couldn’t join them so I just told them the truth that I was gay and had previous engagements for dinner.
Was the decision to come out a difficult one for you?
It was one that I hadn’t planned on at that point, but it was natural when it did happen as I was comfortable in who I was.
What was the reaction from your teammates to your coming out?
It was a mixed bag. I was new to the team so I didn’t have a lot of long lasting friendships, but some of them were cool as if nothing happened and the rest kept their distance.
Do you regret coming out at all?
I don’t regret it at all. It did present challenges with competitors, coaches, sponsors, etc, but in the end it made me a stronger person.
Do you keep in touch with any of your old teammates?
I do keep in touch with a few of them from each of my teams over the years.
An injury prevented you from making the US Olympic team for 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. How
important were the Olympics to you at the time?
At the time, they were all that I was focused on. I was training at my home training center in Steamboat Springs and had an accident on the training hill that cracked two vertebrae. It was devastating that I was not able to perform at my best two days after the accident at the qualifiers at Park City.
The number of out gay professional athletes is rather small. What piece of advice would you
have for a professional athlete looking to come out?
I would advise them that while it’s a personal thing it is something that should be done. If you’re going to come out while still competing they need to make sure they move the energy they spent keeping it hidden to energy to prove that they’re still the same athlete for a while after coming out. The energy expenditure doesn’t really change, but the focus changes from one of fear and hiding to one of pride.
Sponsorship was a problem for you as an out professional athlete. Do you see that changing for future athletes anytime soon?
I think it’s changing slowly just as society’s attitude towards gays is changing. However, in the end corporations are in the business of making money and there are some that have a market that will be unphased by the sponsorship of a gay athlete while others will opposed. It’s important for gay athletes who are planning to come out to make sure that the companies that they partner with will be okay with that decision to help minimize any unnecessary distractions for all parties.
In the end, did you receive any sponsorship? If so, from who?
I did have a number of sponsors over the years that helped support my endeavors. The biggest was Outboard.org, the world’s largest gay and lesbian snowboard organization. In addition to that, friends and a number of local and regional gay and lesbian sports organizations held fundraisers providing grass roots support. I’m very thankful for everyone’s support over the years.
What do you think of the current crop of snowboarders on the US team? Care to make any predictions as to how they will do in 2010?
I actually trained with a number of possible team members over the years. The US Team has not been decided yet so I can’t predict how they’ll fair against the other riders.
You know we had to ask – single or attached?
I’ve been with my husband Steve for 7 years now. We were married in August, 2008 in Victoria, BC at the Empress Hotel.
Any plans on coming to Vancouver for the 2010 Games?
I spoke to family in Vancouver recently and they said that things are looking good for the games. They had tried to get us tickets, but were unable so we’ll be watching and cheering from Denver on TV. I know that Salt Lake City was a blast and I’m sure you guys will enjoy your experience as hosts as well.
According to your OutBoard profile you’re into anything Star Wars. What is it about Star Wars
that you are attracted to?
I mostly follow the newer books and story lines. I think what I like the most is that the basis of the force has gone from being a darkside/lightside understanding to shades of grey based upon how power and influence is used which mimics real life.
Tell us about what you are doing today and OutBoard.
Outside of my full time job, I along with Steve, manage the events and operations of Outboard and outboard.org which is the world’s largest gay and lesbian snowboard organization with over 2300 members.
The world’s largest gay and lesbian snowboard organization provides its over 2,300 members with the opportunity to connect, plan impromptu trips, events, etc, use discussion boards as well as access the full content of its host connexion.org.
Outboard also produces and promotes several day trips here in Colorado including Virgin Days for first time riders and our week long snowboard week, which this year is Outboard 2010, hosted in Breckenridge, CO March 30 through April 4, 2010.