Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Gus Kenworthy’s Olympic Wins Go Way Beyond Gold Medals

Ad failed to load

The expectations placed on any top tier athlete are often unfathomable to the rest of us. And that pressure is exacerbated for Olympic athletes, who have the hopes of entire countries to consider as they compete for their places at the podium. But no one's shoulders are arguably more weighted down this Olympics than those of Gus Kenworthy, one of two openly gay American athletes competing at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. Gus Kenworthy knows all about managing the projections of others and, in the end, focusing on what truly matters — not only for himself but for his community and for the people who have aided him in living his most authentic life. From an interview room in PyeongChang, Kenworthy spoke to Romper via telephone about bucking other people's expectations, reprioritizing what truly matters — especially as all eyes are on the freestyle skier during the Winter Games — and making those who have supported him proud.

"I think it's always difficult when you have expectations because you kind of put a lot of pressure on yourself, and I want to live up to people's expectations and I want to do the best I possibly can for my country and my community and my family and myself," Kenworthy says. "But at the end of the day, you kind of have to put that stuff aside, because I really have no control over the outcome. All I can do is just ski the best that I can and land my run and then just be positive, win or lose, and do so gracefully. To have a smile and just try and be a good role model, because everything else is out of my control."

Mike Stobe/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Ad failed to load
There are so many people who say, 'Who cares that he's gay? It's 2018, no one cares.' But then I'll also read the comments on something about myself and see a ton of negative stuff about me being gay.

And while Olympians are often touted as role models, for better or for worse, it's not lost on Kenworthy that as an openly gay Olympian, he's been shouldered with the burden, and the privilege, of being a role model to multiple communities. Because, yes, even though it's 2018, being an openly gay athlete is not only noteworthy, it's history in the making. When Figure Skating's Adam Rippon was announced as a member of the 2018 U.S. Olympic team in Dec. 2017, he became the first openly gay athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics. In 2018. This year's Winter Olympics has only 13 "out" LGBTQ athletes competing in total, across all the countries and teams: an Olympic record. In 2018.

So while a human being's sexual orientation should no longer be a revelation, Kenworthy knows that as a nation, and a world, we've only progressed so far. It matters that he represents the LGBTQ community at the Winter Games. Representation, then, now, and always, matters.

Ad failed to load

"In 2018, it kind of goes both ways. There are so many people who say, 'Who cares that he's gay? It's 2018, no one cares.' But then I'll also read the comments on something about myself and see a ton of negative stuff about me being gay," Kenworthy tells Romper. "So I think that the only way to change perceptions is through visibility and through representation. I think that it's important that I'm out and that Adam is out and that we're here and competing and we're proud."

That's why it was important to Kenworthy that he partner with Head & Shoulders for their "Shoulders of Greatness" campaign, which highlights the different pressures and expectations people carry on their shoulders, and how those pressures can often motivate individuals to overcome adversity and achieve greatness. As one of the most popular Olympians headed into the Winter Games, Kenworthy had plenty of brands, companies, and sponsors to choose from. But with inclusivity at the forefront of his mind, he was selective about picking his campaigns. In a recent Head & Shoulders commercial, Kenworthy says, "My shoulders carry more than my country's pride. They carry my community's pride, my family's pride, and pride in myself."

Ad failed to load

The commercial features a pride flag; a first for the company and a first that Kenworthy is proud to be part of.

Gus Kenworthy on YouTube

"The fact that there is a pride flag in the commercial, and the first time that was ever done on national TV in an ad, is just amazing," Kenworthy says. "It just speaks to how inclusive they are as a brand and how supportive they are of me and the fact that I'm a gay man and how much they wanted to active around that."

Ad failed to load
I would have told myself, at a younger age, that it was OK to be myself.

According to The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ youth seriously contemplate suicide at three times the rate of heterosexual youth. And 34 percent of LGBTQ students are bullied at school, according to a 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. A pride flag featured in a nationwide commercial might not seem like a big deal to some, but to Kenworthy it is, especially when he looks back at the heartache he experienced while in the closet.

"I spent a lot of years in high school and in the beginning of my ski career trying so desperately to fit the mold of what I thought I was supposed to be, as a high school kid and as a professional athlete trying to make it in this sport," Kenworthy says. "I think that took a toll."

Ad failed to load

When asked what Kenworthy wishes he could say to his younger self during that time period, the Olympian responded: "I would have told myself, at a younger age, that it was OK to be myself."

[My mom] always encouraged me to be myself, and told me how important it is, and how much she loved me, regardless. I think she just wanted me to know that I was supported and loved and, well, she has always been my number one fan. I can't thank her enough.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Ad failed to load

And while being a proud, out, gay man competing in the Winter Olympics does put some added pressure on Kenworthy, he welcomes that pressure because it comes with a heap of support. "As much as it does put more pressure on me, and there are more people watching, there's also so much more support given to me than there ever was in the past," he shares. "I have an amazing community behind me and rooting for me, and I'm excited for that."

That community, of course, includes his mother, who Kenworthy says played a pivotal role in supporting him in living his authentic life. "I think I knew, even before I told her I was gay, that she kind of knew," Kenworthy tells Romper. "She always encouraged me to be myself and told me how important it is, and how much she loved me, regardless. I think she just wanted me to know that I was supported and loved and, well, she has always been my number one fan. I can't thank her enough."

As the country prepares to cheer Team USA on, it's safe to assume there will be parents from coast to coast unable to thank Kenworthy enough, too. Because, somewhere, there's a kid with their sights set on being an Olympic freestyle skier. And that kid will have a role model that reminds them that fulfilling other people's expectations is never as important as being true to who you are.

Ad failed to load

You can watch Kenworthy and the rest of the U.S. Olympians compete in the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang on NBC.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

13 Unique (& Totally Not Mainstream) Mother's Day Gifts For The Hipster Mom

Hipsters thrive on being outside the norm and not really digging anything considered "mainstream." Whether it's in their fashion, what music they listen to, the books they read, or how they enjoy beverages, there's just something that makes them dist…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's How To Introduce Your Pet To Your Baby & Make Everything As Calm As Possible

Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills