Skater Timothy LeDuc is hoping to glide their way into history this winter.
The Iowa native is competing in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships this week, and could be on their way to joining Team USA at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
If LeDuc succeeds, they’ll become the first nonbinary athlete to compete in the Winter Games ― and it’s a prospect they don’t take lightly.
In an interview with NBC Sports’ “My New Favorite Olympian” podcast, LeDuc ― who uses they/them pronouns ― spoke at length about the challenges they faced navigating the very gendered world of figure skating.
“For me, as a person that exists and really thrives outside of the binary, it can be very complicated sometimes,” they said. “There are going to be the people that don’t understand it or would be very quick to push me back into the box of, you know, they look at me, they see that I have a beard or they look at maybe my physical characteristics and say, ‘You’re a boy. Act like a boy. What are you doing?’”
LeDuc, now 31, said they initially came out to their evangelical Christian parents as gay shortly after turning 18. A decade later, they told their family that they were nonbinary.
Though LeDuc said their parents now embrace them as their true self, they recalled a time when a family member “basically tried to perform an exorcism on me” and, in doing so, attempted to remedy their “same-sex attraction.”
And while they found solace on the ice, securing a committed skating partner was another challenge. In 2016, they finally teamed up with Ashley Cain-Gribble of Texas.
“We never wanted to be what was looked at as the traditional team,” Cain-Gribble said on the podcast. “We want people to look at our skating and know that they don’t have to change who they are in order to be a part of this sport, in order to do something that they’re passionate about.”
The number of Olympic athletes who identify as LGBTQ while actively competing has grown substantially in recent years. Last August, Canadian soccer player Quinn became the first openly transgender and nonbinary athlete to win an Olympic medal following their team’s defeat of Sweden in the women’s final.
Alongside Quinn were Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand; Chelsea Wolfe, on the U.S. women’s BMX Freestyle team; and American skateboarder Alana Smith.
And in 2018, freeskier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon became Team USA’s first two openly gay male athletes to compete in the Winter Games.
Listen to Timothy LeDuc’s “My New Favorite Olympian” chat below.