This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2018.
If you hadn't heard of figure skater Adam Rippon before the Pyeongchang Olympics, there's no doubt you know him now. Rippon won a bronze medal with the U.S. in the team skate competition ... and he stole the show with his personality and courageous story. Before posing for ESPN's Body Issue, the "Dancing With the Stars: Athletes" champ weighed in on coming out, overcoming injury and competing at the highest level.
I couldn't have done this [shoot] while I was in the closet. I think that with my experience of coming out, I felt so liberated in so many ways.
I don't want to say I'll never be in this shape again, but I'll never be in this shape. I'll be in another shape. This is a milestone of all the work it took me to get to the point to be an Olympic-medal-winning figure skater.
I think the stamina is the most intense part of figure skating. I don't think figure skaters get the credit we deserve, but at the same time, that's our job; we want everyone to watch us perform and think it's effortless. If it looks like effort and that it takes so much strength, you've completely lost the point of the performance. The whole point is that it looks really easy.
In a way, the spins are sort of the unsung heroes of skating. I am a really good spinner, and that takes a strong core and impressive balance and flexibility. But if you ask any skater if they could skip anything in their program, they would skip the spins. They are so draining. But they're my favorite.
I have a shelf butt. When I was at the Olympics, one of my roommates -- she is also a skater -- said, "I know why people think [your butt] is fake. It looks like a shelf in your costume." In skating, we're very lower-limb-dominant and it's important to keep our trunk and upper bodies very lean, because if you're lighter, you will jump higher, and if you're thinner, you will spin faster. But it's finally time to put all of those questions to rest. All of the doubters, all of the naysayers, they'll finally have the proof they've been looking for!
My physique is 90 percent nurture. I did an ancestry DNA test, and I'm like 90 percent Irish. Those genes are heavily favored for potato picking. I don't think there were many figure skaters.
I always think that my abs look like mush. I think it's really hard for me to accept that they aren't always going to be a six-pack. It does take a little bit of lighting and a lot of flexing; they don't always look like they do on Instagram, and it's devastating when they don't.
The worst thing I ever went through was breaking my foot one year before the Olympics [in January 2017]. The only thing I could do to get better was to do nothing. You spend your whole life where you go to the gym or on the ice and work through a problem, get better and improve. This was the first time in my life where they said, "Go home and lay down and put it on a bunch of pillows." But I was never able to relax. I was laying on the couch trying to do crunches. Eventually I decided to drive out to Colorado Springs and live at the [U.S. Olympic] training center and do my therapy there. They understand when an athlete is going through a rough time; they want to do something, and they kept me really busy. They had me in the gym for four hours every day doing band work so when I got back on the ice I would feel I was right back in it.
I know it sounds crazy, but a little bit of ranch dressing made me feel so much better. It really was life-saving. I can easily get super intense [about my diet], but I always am my best when I have a good balance between mind, body and soul. When I'm going crazy, I'll just have water and lettuce and a chicken breast with no dressing. But you know what? I can get the lemonade and I can get a side of ranch dressing.
For a while, I was trying to be as thin as possible. But what I was doing wasn't right. I was starving myself, because I was trying to be as lean as some of my counterparts 10 years younger than me. Eventually I worked with a nutritionist at the Olympic training center. I went in and said: "I don't have an eating disorder, but I have a problem." It was hard to break the cycle, but when I broke my foot, I was forced into a place of figuring it out. I listened to everything I was taught, and when I got back onto the ice, I was so much stronger and better than I was before.
I hope the next out Olympians are just Olympians. I hope the focus isn't on them being out but on their incredible stories and all the work it took to be there. It was kind of nuts, but it was funny: Through the course of the Olympics, it was like, "Gay Olympian Adam Rippon." Then it was just "Olympian Adam Rippon."
I wasn't expecting so many people to contact me [after the Olympics] and tell me they were struggling with being themselves. I went through that personal struggle and got to a point where I was like, "F--- it. I'm just going to be me and not worry about it." I am glad I was able to represent a person who was really unabashedly himself.
I don't think I was ever so nervous in my entire life as I was for the Olympics, but I wasn't scared. And there is a huge difference. It's easy to feel like nerves are being afraid, but with all I have been through, I realized nerves aren't fear. I was able to channel that: As nervous as I am, I can channel this into energy.
When I was young, masculinity meant you play football and that's it. Everything else is effeminate and not masculine or manly. As I've gotten older, I've redefined to myself what being masculine is, and to me, being masculine is owning yourself as a man. Maybe I'm not typically masculine, but I feel like a strong-ass man when I go out there and compete.
What I really like about sports is you are judged by the work you put in and the results you get out. When you get to a certain level, everybody you compete with and everyone you know respects that work, so everything else is secondary. That's what I really love about being an athlete. You can be from wherever, be whoever, and at the end of the day if you came to play and show up and be your best, that is what you are truly judged on.
I wish everybody could have that coming-out experience in a different capacity. In a sense, it's you completely and unabashedly owning who you are, and it takes a lot of courage to really share that. It's very scary, and when you do something like that, you feel triumphant. I almost hope everyone can have that experience where they own who they are and feel like a champion.
For more from the 2018 Body Issue, pick up a copy on newsstands starting June 29.
Set Design by Jesse Nemeth/The Magnet Agency; Grooming by Erin Svalstad