The Way Out Is Through
How An Endurance Athlete Overcame Addiction
Backcountry partners with the Utah Pride Center (UPC) to support our local LGBTQ+ community and raise awareness about the UPC’s work toward advancing mental health and inclusivity in the backcountry and beyond. In our OUTdoors Spotlight series, we’re sharing the stories of LGBTQ+ outdoor athletes.
Trigger warnings: suicidality, alcoholism
They say the way out is through. That rings true for Backcountry Utah Fulfillment Center Manager Kevin. To achieve sobriety and a life rooted in endurance racing, he had to embark on a journey of grappling with his identity as a gay man and overcoming his alcohol addiction.
While getting outside ultimately helped him find his path in life, Kevin, who was raised in upstate New York, has always loved the outdoors. But growing up, he struggled with his identity: “I typically had a girlfriend, but would find myself thinking about men.” He “desperately hoped” he was bisexual because of his fear that his family would disown him.
After graduating high school, Kevin struggled to figure out what to do next. He found himself pulled between taking time off to travel and heading straight into higher education. Enter NOLS, The National Outdoor Leadership School. Kevin did two full semesters with the goal of becoming an outdoor guide. His education took him all over the world, from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, all the way down to New Zealand. “[NOLS] … lit a fire within me. At that point,” he says, “I felt like I had found my calling and wanted to become a guide.”
Around the age of 21, Kevin packed his car and headed west, and eventually landed in Breckenridge, CO, where he started a job as a line cook for a local restaurant. “The money was good, I enjoyed my coworkers, and we had a lot of fun … too much fun,” Kevin says, “I ended up getting a DUI, which sidelined any ambitions I had for guiding.” Kevin recalls that the years rolled by, with alcohol completely taking over his life.
“I was depressed and felt inauthentic… It had gotten to the point that I wasn’t skiing much or doing any of the things I had moved out west for.” And while he had friends, he hadn’t come out to any of them, which left him feeling inauthentic, the shame of it eating at him. “It was heavy,” Kevin remembers, “for a good chunk of my life, my long-term plan was just to … disappear. I often thought of how I would do it.”
Knowing he needed a change, Kevin moved to New York to live and work with his older brother. Unfortunately, Kevin’s alcoholism only got worse. “All I did was work, go home, and drink. I started being unable to fall asleep at night,” he recalls.
After another sleepless night, Kevin called into work for the second day in a row, and realized it was the “day that [he] always knew would eventually come.” He spent the day preparing to kill himself but was interrupted when his older brother came home on his lunch break to check on him. Kevin ended up in the psychiatric ward that day—one of many treatment centers he would visit over the next couple of years while hiding his alcoholism from family members and therapists.
“I felt doomed and had settled deep into my depression.”
Following numerous rock bottoms and intervention from his parents, Kevin found himself on a plane bound for Utah. “I spent 3 months in a treatment center in Orem and things started to click. Mostly,” he says, “because I was desperate.”
In his “broken down” state Kevin says he was finally able to be open and honest, and he “laid everything out on the table from day one”—including coming out to his family, despite the fear he carried since childhood.
“It was around that time that I was finally able to imagine a happy ending. I could believe that it was possible for me to fall in love and keep my family intact,” Kevin says.
As his treatment ended, Kevin struggled with where to start his life as a sober, gay man. Family and friends sold him on Salt Lake City, UT, where he moved into a sober living house. Kevin says he didn’t look for work right away, but instead focused on creating a healthy structure for his life, spending every day at the gym and focusing on rock climbing.
“It was around that time that I was finally able to imagine a happy ending.”
He needed to purchase a harness and was referred to Backcountry—where he had been shopping for outdoor gear for most of his life. But he had no idea that Backcountry was based out of the city he now called home. “I went to get a harness and ended up applying for a job,” Kevin remembers.
Sobriety led Kevin back to his roots. “Way back when I moved out west to ski,” Kevin says. And now, he now not only has a life dedicated to the outdoors, with a number of ultra runs and ski mountaineering races under his belt—two WURLs(Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup), The Grand Traverse, the Chicago Marathon, and many more—but also has found a partner he loves.
“My coming out wasn’t pretty. It tore my family apart, but in the end, it brought us closer than ever before,” Kevin reflects. “Looking back, I wonder why I made such a big deal about it because nobody cared that much… They just wanted me to be happy.”
You can follow Kevin’s journey at @k.roo_what.it.do