Ryan Miller was out on the piss with his snowboarding buddies. The lads were up
for action. Someone suggested they go visit a strip joint. As they headed off, Ryan
stayed put, announcing, "I'm gay".
"I got tired of putting on a straight-acting role," he says. His team-mates responded
with attitude. "I was shunned. Even the coach didn't want to know."
Ryan was forced to find himself another team. "Their response upset me. But at the
same time I had already prepared myself for it. I've been brought up to prepare for
the worst and celebrate anything better."
By coming clean, Ryan became the only out gay snowboarder
on the professional racing circuit. He remained the only gay snowboarder or skier to come out
until Gus Kenworthy's announcement some 10 years later.
Ryan's current team is very defensive of him and won't let anyone have a homophobic
pop. "They've kinda picked up a torch for me," says Ryan. "If they hear someone
say something derogatory they'll throw it back by saying something like, 'well you're
the one who just got beaten by a faggot'.
And the faggot certainly started whipping arse on the slopes the year after he changed teams. Ryan was
listed sixth in the national championships and internationally was rated at 28.
Along the way, he took a fair few knocks. Travelling at 50mph with only lycra as
protection has its hazards. He messed-up a knee, but as soon as he was able
he was back on the board. "The rush is addicted," he says. "It's like flying."
Ryan grew up in Pennsylvania. "A small, conservative, tight-knit community
where you were expected to get married, have kids and live happily ever after," he
says. "The concept of homosexuality was never discussed."
Through Thanksgiving to early April Pennsylvania is smothered in snow. Ryan was
practically skiing before he could walk. By 10, he was out on his snowboard seven
days a week.
Illustrated diagram of grabbing locations on a snowboard - Click on illustration for larger version
Provided by: Nlin86, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
At school, Ryan did "anything but participate in organised sport". He felt he didn't
"I tried football and baseball but always felt on the outside." He found the school
approach to sport sadistic. Childhood coaches espoused the 'sport is no place for
pansies' ethos, that is, if you're gay you're weak.
"It still creeps into my head at times when I don't perform well. I can think 'was
that because I had a bad day or because I'm gay?".
So when there was no snow, Ryan immersed himself in music instead, playing flute,
piccolo, piano and drums. "I've always been an over-achiever".
By 15, the snowboarding had got serious.
Ryan became involved with a national ski organisation, helping to set up a snowboarding offshoot. "It all slowly snowballed from there,"
he says. "No pun intended."
After leaving high school, Ryan moved on to music college. Eventually, the music
came second fiddle to the snowboard (pun intended). Playing piccolo just didn't
deliver the same rush.
He decided to switch colleges, from music to business (eventually gaining a degree
in economics). It was at business school that Ryan met his first out gay guy. "He
turned round to me one day and said, 'how long have you been gay?' I was stunned."
The friend helped Ryan figure his sexuality out. "He said he wasn't about to make
the decision for me," says Ryan, "and suggested I go to the campus gay group to
explore my feelings in a safe environment."