But figure skating is also littered with judgment — an international panel of judges scouring over every little detail, then providing their score.
It was that suffocating weight of knowing she was being watched every second that kept Canadian ice dancer Kailtyn Weaver hiding what she calls her little secret.
But now, two years after leaving competitive figure skating, Weaver is tired of doing the dance and keeping up the facade just to be accepted in the sport she loves.
On Friday, the 32-year-old became the first Olympic female figure skating to come out as gay.
“I’ve reached the point of not wanting to pretend anymore. It really weighed on my mental health to hide consistently a part of who I am,” Weaver told CBC Sports in an exclusive interview. “I feel like it’s the right time in my life to share that I identify as a queer woman.
“I feel like I need to step up because I know there are a lot of young girls and people in sport who are afraid to share who they are,” she said.
For 13 competitive seasons Weaver was alongside her skating partner Andrew Poje. The two were consistently near the top of the standings — they ranked among the top five in nine of those years, are three-time world medallists in ice dance, winning silver in 2014 to go with bronzes in 2015 and 2018, and competed at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics for Canada.
But throughout all their success, Weaver knew there was something missing. She couldn’t pinpoint it because she wasn’t allowing herself to even go to that dark, scary place of confronting her sexuality.
‘Coming out was never something I considered’
“We are in a judged sport. We’re afraid to put one toe out of line for fear of what people will think about us,” Weaver said. “Coming out was never something I considered. It was not on the table for me. Fear. It was not even a real conversation I could have with myself.”
Weaver wasn’t willing to risk what she calls her livelihood while competing — she felt it would negatively affect their scores.
“Coming out is still not safe in a lot of countries around the world. On an international panel who knows what someone is going to judge you for?” she said. “It puts you even deeper into hiding.”
But now it’s time to step forward. For herself. And for those who are coming after her. Weaver knows what’s at stake because she’s now able to fully see how much added weight she was carrying by not bringing all herself to life and competition.
‘What makes us different is okay’
“It’s been a struggle. It’s been a struggle to accept this part of myself but I think in the last year we’ve all had our experiences knowing that what makes us different is okay and something to be celebrated,” she said.
This past year, locked down by the pandemic and with time for reflection, Weaver confronted her sexuality in a way she never could while competing. She says it was time to look in the mirror and face this head on. Weaver says it was easy to put it on the back burner throughout her career because she was always on the move and distracted by performing.
But keeping up that facade was and has taken its toll.
“I’ve done that my whole life. Skating first, personal life second. I’ll figure it out later,” she said. “But it got to the point where it wasn’t healthy anymore. When the pandemic hit, I just knew this was going to be it. It was time.
“I had nowhere to hide anymore. I needed to do that for myself.”
WATCH | Weaver, Pojo waltz to 4th at World Team Trophy:
Weaver was born in Houston, Texas. She moved to Canada when she was 17 and threw herself at her sport. It’s been everything to her. It was all she identified with and how people identified her.
“There’s a lot of pressure on young girls and women in my sport to play the archetype. I think it’s our responsibility to say yes, you can be that but you can also be all of these other things too,” Weaver said. “I am those things too, I like playing the role of the princess and wearing the gowns.
“So when I was uncovering myself and sexuality, it didn’t feel like those two things matched. There were no role models in my sport who were like me,” she said.
There’s a lightness and energy in her voice now as she shares her hopes and dreams for what’s ahead, something Weaver says she hasn’t felt in a really long time. And while there’s this newfound perspective, she still has some fears about how the world will view her.
“I’m not sure what waits on the other side of this. There’s a lot of excitement. Some fear. But you know what, it’s time this stops being a thing. I’m ready to step into the light,” she said.
WATCH | Kaitlyn Weaver on reminding girls that sports is for everyone:
Weaver now calls Manhattan, N.Y., home. She says she’s found an amazingly supportive group of people there, wrapped in their love in this big shift for her.
It’s Pride Month too, something Weaver celebrated in the past but not the way she’s wanted to. That’s changed for this year.
“I feel in my bones that I can celebrate in a different way. It’s not a small, secret corner in my heart that I’m celebrating this anymore,” she said. “That’s what it was for a long time, my little secret. It just feels so good to be able to share my whole heart.”
And it’s her hope that she’s carving out a new path in her sport for those who are still competing and
“It’s really important to look around and ask what we are missing here. That goes for racialized people too. You look at our sport. It’s white. It’s heteronormative and it’s elite,” she said.
“Why are there no queer women? What’s the reason? That’s why I feel it’s my job to ask why we don’t feel safe. Why can’t you be one and the other? It’s our job to look critically at our sport and say what groups of people aren’t represented here.”