By Theresa Gonzalez
Activist and top athlete with a decent singing voice and rugged good looks to boot? Gus Kenworthy is not only what they call the complete package, he’s an athlete to admire (if not crush on). The British-born, Colorado-raised freestyle skier scored a silver medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, which hosted the first-ever slopestyle and halfpipe skiing events, and he looks ahead to PyeongChang 2018 with one goal in mind: Gold.
After rising to the podium in his first Olympic Winter Games, Kenworthy made history in 2015 when he became one of the first professional action sports athletes to come out publicly. Along with his cover shot on a major sports magazine, he tweeted simply, “I am gay.”
“[Coming out] really brought me closer to my family and friends and it made me feel so much better about myself that I was like, 'imagine how good it'll feel to tell everyone,'” he told Visa. Still, he had major reservations. “I thought I was going to lose my fan base, lose respect from judges, lose my sponsors. I was really scared.”
To his surprise and relief, the response from his fans, media and the industry was nothing but positive. “It's crazy that I really hadn't thought of it going that way. I just had so much doubt in my mind and then to actually get so much support was overwhelming,” he said. To his younger fans who might be going through similar fears of coming out: “There's nothing better than getting to live your true life and be your authentic self and I hope that kids take time to realize that,” he added.
Today, Kenworthy calls both Denver and New York City, where his partner, actor Matt Wilkas lives, home. “In terms of skiing, yes, it’s bizarre to be based in New York but it's just during the summer that you're home. The rest of the year you're traveling to train and compete,” he notes.
At 26, he has focused on his skiing career now for 10 years and says he’s starting to dip his toes into other areas like TV hosting and acting as he plans for his post-athletic career. His latest gig: co-hosting the Global Citizen Festival, which aims to help end extreme poverty by 2030. He attributes his travels, including a trip to a refugee camp in Uganda with the International Olympic Committee, and his upbringing for his awareness and compassion for causes closest to him. “I feel like I'm kind of the luckiest guy in the world because I have a job that I absolutely love that was able to afford me to travel the world and ski for a living and help take care of my family, so I try and give back as much as I can,” he said. This year he accepted the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award in a touching speech about his fears of coming out.
Also this year, Kenworthy joined more than 50 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls on Team Visa, Visa's sponsorship program. “I want to align myself with companies that stand for the same things I do. It feels amazing to have a company as huge as Visa, one of the most recognizable worldwide brands, see value in me and want to support me. I think that as a gay athlete it's important and it says a lot about Visa and it's an opportunity I'm really excited about.”
Kenworthy will begin his quest to achieve his two-podium goal at trials this December, where he’ll look to qualify in both the slopestyle and halfpipe events for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. It will be his first visit to South Korea if he makes it—and he’s looking forward to more than just hitting the slopes. “I’ve been told that there's karaoke literally everywhere, in the hotels, in the restaurants…I'm so excited for that. That's just about my favorite thing to do.”
Theresa Gonzalez is a senior writer for Visa. Follow her @theresagonzalez.