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Tewksbury, Mark (b. 1968)  
 
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Olympic medalist Mark Tewksbury was closeted throughout his competitive swimming career, but since coming out has become an advocate for glbtq rights.

Mark Tewksbury is the adopted son of Roger and Donna Tewksbury. Born February 7, 1968 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, he spent his first five years in that city, but then his father, who worked for an oil company, was transferred to Dallas. During the hot Texas summers, a dip in the pool was a favorite family activity.

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Young Mark showed promise as a swimmer. He took lessons and began competing in races for children. When the Tewksburys moved back to Calgary a couple of years later, he continued training and perfecting his skills. By the time he was seventeen, he was among the elite of Canadian swimmers and represented his country at the Pan Pacific Games in 1985.

Swimming was a joy for the young Tewksbury, but his experience at school brought him misery. As early as grade school, he had realized his sexual orientation but found himself confused, conflicted, lonely, and not knowing where to turn for help. In his memoir, Inside Out (2006), he recalls those years, "I felt vulnerable and freakish, like I was the only person in the world with this affliction."

As a result of his feelings of alienation, Tewksbury became something of a loner in junior high school. One day he arrived to find that his locker had been vandalized and that slurs had been written on his notebooks. Devastated, he ran home and waited all day for his parents to return from work.

He told them what had happened but was not yet ready to acknowledge that he was indeed gay. His parents took the matter to the school principal, who side-stepped the issue of homophobia and recommended that Tewksbury transfer to a different school. He did so, but the students there learned of the reason for his transfer, and bullies tormented him. He calls this phase "the beginning of my double life," which meant success and happiness in swimming and trying to avoid cruel taunts at school.

In his solitude and despair, Tewksbury says he "really considered ending it all." On several occasions he took a knife from the kitchen and locked himself in the bathroom. "I would never actually hurt myself," he stated, "but the depths of my self-loathing and desperation in wanting to be something different than what I was pushed me dangerously close."

He found solace in his swimming and his family but was still afraid to reveal his "awful secret" to those closest to him.

The teenager endeavored to mimic straight behavior, dating a few girls, but soon gave up the pretense. He occasionally risked making a pass at another male but did not establish any romantic relationships.

Tewksbury poured his energy into his swimming, becoming increasingly successful. At seventeen, he swam for Canada in the 1985 Pan Pacific Championships, placing eighth in his specialty, the 100-meter backstroke. He won gold in the event at the next two Pan Pacific games in 1987 and 1989, and took the silver in 1991. In addition, he was part of three silver medal-winning medley relay teams (1987-1991) and earned another silver in the 200-meter backstroke in 1987.

He also found success at the Commonwealth Games, winning double gold in the backstroke and medley relay events in both 1986 and 1990.

Tewksbury went into the 1988 Olympic Games with high hopes. His Canadian relay team won the silver medal, but in the backstroke event he could manage only a fifth-place finish, trailing other swimmers who had adopted a new style of underwater kick that gave them the slim but essential margin for victory.

Since the Olympic Games had stretched into October, Tewksbury could not enroll for the fall term at college. Pentathlete Diane Jones Konihowski approached him about joining a project that she was organizing to have athletes speak at Alberta schools. After taking a "crash course" in public speaking, Tewksbury began making presentations.

He was a hit with the children, and soon he was invited to address a corporate group. His successful appearance led to a lucrative contract that gave him the financial resources he needed to meet the expenses of training for the 1992 Olympics.

Tewksbury was concerned about the so-called "morality" clause in his speaking contracts. He was still not publicly out but was beginning to explore his gay identity.

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A publicity photograph of Mark Tewksbury provided by marktewksbury.com.
  
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