The pushing alarm tone of Austin Olivares’ phone goes off at 4:25 a.m. in the morning. He hits the snooze button for another five minutes, until he jumps right into his speedo, some comfy clothes, packs up his swim bag and grabs a cereal bar to eat on the car ride to the pool.
He pulls his silver Nissan Versa up on the parking lot of the St. Peters Rec Plex 10 minutes later and greets the front desk lady with a warming smile and an enthusiastic “good morning Madam”. A couple of steps lead him downstairs to the natatorium where he finds his way to the back end and puts his bag on one of the benches. Some of Olivares’ team mates, all members of the Lindenwood Swimming and Diving team, are already there, some still arrive.
Every swimmer has his or her caps and goggles on at 5:15 a.m. and is ready to jump into the chilly water for a warm up set.
Olivares seems at ease, experienced and comfortable, but it was not always like that.
In May 2013, two weeks before graduating from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida, and after a six-year process of self-doubt and deliberation, Olivares made the life-changing decision of coming out.
“Coming out was probably the hardest thing I’ve done,” he said. “It was liberating, I was afraid, but it is the best thing I’ve done for myself.”
He describes the six years as a very negative time of his life. Every night he went to bed praying to wake up as a different person, but the next morning nothing had changed.
“I was terrified of the fact that I was different,” said Olivares. “And the negative societal view towards gay people was intimidating.”
However, a long talk with his stepmother one day helped him to gain self-acceptance and get more and more comfortable.
The now very outgoing and engaged Olivares who always seems to have a smile on his face portrayed himself as very introverted and quiet at this time.
Olivares described the reaction of his friends and family to his coming-out as very positive.
“Some of them were very surprised, but it didn’t change the way they treated me,” he said.
Back to the roots
Olivares is member of the swim team and a student of Lindenwood since 2015. After attending Florida Atlantic University for two years, he was looking for a different school where he could compete in swimming on a national level.
“At FAU, the team chemistry was not what I was looking for,” he said.
Lindenwood seemed as a good option. Not only did he like the coaches and the program best from all other schools he was looking at, but Olivares, who was born in St. Louis and lived here until he moved to Florida as a seven-year old, has still family here. He does not regret his choice at all.
How far he has come
On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, Olivares comes back to the pool for a second swim. After that, he goes back to campus where the whole team does another hour of dryland practice that includes strengthening and conditioning exercises.
“He came so far since he joined our team and improved a lot in the water and outside” said Assistant Coach Jon Lau.
Olivares said that switching from the middle distance group to the distance group, where the yardage for every practice is much higher and an additional swim is added to the week’s schedule, has helped him a lot to improve.
How far Olivares has come at Lindenwood can be easily seen by looking at the facts. He made it to NCAA Division II Nationals last season where he scored valuable points for the team and he was elected team captain for 2016/2017.
“I was shocked and just so honored that people felt they can put their trust in me,” he said.
One of his teammates, Andrew Werkman, said “Austin is an awesome person. He is a great athlete and an even greater team mate.”
Being gay is not always easy in competitive sports. Olivares knows that and tries to help others that face the same challenges he did. Recently, the news outlet specifically focusing on LGBT athletes OUTSPORTS strated writing articles about him and is still in touch with him. Sometime his contact information is included and he then talks to people that reach out to him.
“Everyone has been very supportive and happy,” he said about the feedback he gets from the people around him. “No one had something bad to say.”
The 2016/17 swim season just started, and Olivares is thrilled to see what he can accomplish this time. At the end of the season in March, he will see if pushing himself day by day at 5:15 a.m. in the pool paid out.