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Thursday, January 9, 2014


by Jeff Kagan
Published in COMPETE Magazine, Spring 2013 Issue

There was a time in my life when ice hockey was all I'd think about. It captivated me, pushing all other interests aside. Before discovering the game, I had absolutely no interest in sports whatsoever, actually despising all sports. This may have had something to do with my height, not quite five feet tall throughout high school, or maybe it was because my hand-eye coordination didn't truly develop until I was in my mid-twenties. But hockey came along when there was a big void in my life and it changed everything. It may have been the timing. It may have been fate. There was something about it. The elegance... The magic... It lured me in and brought a new joy to my world.

I'd play at all hours of the night, some
of my games starting after midnight when the ice was available. One season, I was able to skate four nights in a row, playing every Thursday through Sunday. I’d limp into work on Monday morning, loving every bit of pain as it reminded me of the hours of fun I had over the last four days. It was a wonderful time in my life: in my mid-twenties, new to ice hockey and new to New York City, both clearly defining me to my friends and family.

I dedicated all of my free time to the game. I began following the New York Rangers, not as a “band-wagon fan” but in 1993, the year before they won their Stanley Cup, when they finished last in the league. I was watching every NHL game I could and going to as many games as I could. I even took a 14-hour train ride up to Montreal for the weekend with a friend just to see a Canadiens game in the beloved Montreal Forum before it closed for good. I went to the All-Star Game in 1995 in Denver Colorado and got to meet the legendary Gordie Howe and take a picture with him elbowing me to the head (a move he was most famous for). In 1996, I was a Pee Wee Youth Hockey Coach at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, and my team played against the team that had Wayne Gretzky’s two sons on it! Of course, I’d speak to Wayne at the rink every week, which was as surreal as you could imagine for any hockey fan.

Being on the ice was now second nature to me. I was a hockey player. I was in the best shape of my life and I felt more comfortable in my skates than I did out of them. Covered head-to-toe in all of my gear, I felt invincible. But deep inside, where no hockey gear could protect me, I was still vulnerable due to a part of my life that I had yet to reveal to my teammates, my friends or my family. I was gay.

I worried that if my secret ever got out, I would no longer be able to play hockey. I don’t exactly remember why I felt that way, but it is a feeling that I will never forget. How would people look at me if they knew? Who would want me on their team. How would I be treated in the locker room. Who would want me to coach their children? Sadly, these are the thoughts that haunted me day and night.  What if my secret got out…

Worlds Collide
On nights when I couldn’t sleep, I’d spend a lot of time on the internet looking for answers about my sexuality. I had no one I could talk to about this and I was alone and afraid. I’d search keywords to see what where they’d lead, hoping for a few articles that might comfort my racing brain. One of the first words I tried was the word "gay". Not surprisingly, over 10,000 results appeared, however, they were not exactly educational. I decided to see what would happen if I searched for keywords "gay" and "hockey" together. Surely nothing would come out of those two words, which in my mind didn’t belong in the same sentence.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a short list of "gay hockey associations". The first one I checked out was the Toronto Gay Hockey Association. I found a website that wasn't tattered with naked men, but rather one that showed pictures of people playing hockey, celebrating together after games, and looking genuinely happy. There were game scores and summaries -- and a mission statement: The Toronto Gay Hockey Association offers an environment free from all forms of harassment and discrimination and encourages fair play, openness and friendship. I thought I was dreaming!
They hosted an annual event in October called The Friendship Tournament. I immediately sent them an email letting them know I was interested, but in the closet, and asked if I could participate. They invited me with open arms. When I arrived at the rink, I looked around and saw about 200 hockey players. I nervously asked one of the Tournament Directors, Paul O’Kane, “They’re all gay??” He said, “Well, most of ‘em. ”  Everyone was friendly and I felt welcome. I was placed on the Vancouver team and noticed that next to my name, it said “Captain”.  I met up with the team and asked why I was listed as the team captain. They told me that because I was from New York, they assumed I’d be bossy.
I was instilled with a great sense of belonging. The camaraderie was astounding -- as if I walked into a place where everyone knew my deepest, darkest secret, but rather than push me away, it brought me closer to them. I could let my guard down and just be myself and play hockey. This was the very beginning of my journey, not just towards the closet door, but towards happiness.
Those four days were four of the greatest days of my life. I learned a lot about myself and realized that my sexual orientation had absolutely nothing to do with my ability to be a hockey player. It would take me some time to process all of it. A few days after returning to New York, I got an email from Paul asking me to write a short article for their newsletter on the subject, “What Gay Hockey Means To Me.” I was still in the closet in New York, so I had nothing to worry about with a newsletter that a handful of people would see in Toronto. Obviously, I knew very little about how the internet turned a big world into a very small place.
A few days later, I get an email from one of my teammates in New York, Jeff Minck.  He wrote to tell me that he read an article online by a gay hockey player from New York City name Jeff Kagan and wondered if I was that Jeff Kagan. My heart raced as I read and I felt a panic attack coming on. But his next sentence put me at ease and I continued reading as he told me he was also gay and surprised that there were two gay men on the same hockey team. What were the chances?
The following October, both Jeff and I went to Toronto together for the tournament. That weekend, Paul O’Kane suggested we set up a similar organization in New York City. We started planning right away, modeling the organization after Toronto. We promoted it local gay weekly magazines and newspapers, and held our first meeting at the LGBT Community Center on July 29, 1999.
New players started coming out of the woodwork and soon enough we had a few teams. The one similarity I observed amongst the new members was that many of them had grown up playing ice hockey, but decided to give it up in the mid-teens. Many lost interest, citing a feeling of not fitting in. I attribute a lot of these stories to the homophobia that many of us have experienced as children or teenagers.

When I was younger, it wasn’t only my lack of height, but also the sense of being different. I knew I was attracted to the other boys. And I knew that it was wrong. Or at least perceived as wrong by the insults and homophobic slurs tossed around the school yard. Sometimes at me, but generally at anyone in the sites of the "daily bully". I use that term because there wasn't just one bully in my life. There were several. But that comes with the territory when you're the smallest kid in the schoolyard. As children, we’ve all heard those disparaging words, and they bring with them a feeling -- an association of something you do NOT want to be. It’s Survival 101 for any child at school -- camouflage yourself under the guise of "normal". Being different can be dangerous. And if you feel different than your peers, how soon before they begin to notice it. How soon before you don’t want to be part of that group. That’s how the homophobia begins in each of us. Hating ourselves for not fitting in. It isn’t hard to imagine why gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

The single experience in Toronto of walking into the rink and meeting 200 gay hockey players just like me was all it took to help me rebuild my self-esteem. It made me understand that I didn’t need to worry about being different. I could play the game I loved so much and be accepted for who I am.
That’s the kind of feeling we wanted to create in our members. By joining the New York City Gay Hockey Association, you joined a new family that was just like you and would stand by you.
Homophobia Rears Its Ugly Head
In 2007, the NYC Gay Hockey Association arranged to go as a group to see the New York Rangers play. The interesting thing about buying group tickets is that your group is mentioned on the jumbo screen that hangs over the arena for all of the other patrons to see. There were about 20 of us, very happy to be there, having a great time. We anxiously awaited during the 2nd period break to see our organization appear on the giant screen. And there it was. We were thrilled. However, following the appearance of the name “New York City Gay Hockey Association”, 10,000 Rangers fans made it clear that we were not welcome there as they boo’d. My heart began to race. I not sure if I was feeling angry or terrified, or a combination of both. Shortly after, we wrote a letter to Glenn Sather, the Rangers General Manager and asked him to create a fan-education program that denounces antigay remarks. We didn’t get any feedback, so our next step was to contact New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn, who is gay, arranged a sit-down with us and the management of Madison Square Garden to determine what could be done to prevent this from happening again. The atmosphere in the meeting was tense but we opened a dialogue on the subject at hand. As a result, management at Madison Square Garden began to broadcast warnings that they will remove fans who behave offensively. They also posted additional security throughout the arena.

You Can Play
In November 2009, Brendan Burke, the youngest son of the Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke came out to his team. Brendan was an athlete and student manager of the RedHawks Men’s Ice Hockey Team at Miami University in Ohio. Coming out in this forum was somewhat unusual, considering the aspect of homophobia still present in many parts of the sports world. But he had the courage to move forward and he was praised by his teammates and the hockey community at large. News stories hit the sports section of newspapers and websites all across North America. I can still remember reading every article on the subject. I was so happy for Brendan. I was happy for him to have the courage that he did, but also for the respect that he earned from his teammates, and most importantly, from his family.

Tragically, less than three months later, Brendan and a friend were killed in a car accident while driving in a snowstorm in Indiana. I read the news that day with tears in my eyes. As a fellow gay athlete, Brendan was an inspiration to me. He was one of us. He had a great future ahead of him, working together to fight homophobia in sports. It seemed like that was the end of his story, but it was only the beginning.  In March 2012, Brian Burke, and Brendan’s brother Patrick founded the You Can Play Project along with Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman of GForce Sports.  Their goal was to continue Brendon’s fight against homophobia in sports. In an article about his brother, Patrick Burke wrote that the entire Burke family promised their “unwavering, unremitting, relentless support” of the cause.

The You Can Play Project has made some amazing progress over the past year. Patrick Burke has traveled all over with LGBT athletes and allies, making speeches at various schools and colleges, and spreading their very basic, yet important seven-word message: “If you can play, you can play.” The organization’s goals are as follows:

You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit."

Over 60 NHL players and personnel have endorsed the campaign, as well as several American Hockey League and college teams. These statistics alone were enough to bring a smile to my face.

But then on Thursday, April 11, 2013, my jaw dropped. Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the National Hockey League held a press conference announcing a partnership between the NHL, the NHL Players’ Association and the You Can Play Project. Bettman said, "Our motto is 'Hockey Is For Everyone,' and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players' Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands."

This was truly a dream come true. I began thinking, not so much about the professional athletes who may be struggling in the closet, but more about the kids -- the youth hockey players of the world -- the teenagers who, right this very minute are going through the same torture that so many of us endured years ago. This partnership is a light at the end of the tunnel and it sends a message -- a very clear message: inclusion, not rejection. 

In his interview about the partnership, Patrick Burke’s most poignant quote is, "The big thing for me as an older brother is that, looking back, I didn't do enough because I didn't know. I didn't do enough at the time to make sure that his locker room was safe and that he was feeling at home in the sports culture. By the time I learned to change my ways and to do what I needed to do, it was too late for him as a young athlete," Burke said. "This is, from the Burke family's perspective, this is making sure that the next generation of LGBT athletes and coaches and fans don't have to go through what Brendan went through."

The partnership between the You Can Play Project and the National Hockey League is not only improving the hockey experience for everyone, but it is bringing hope to a whole new generation of hockey fans. We won’t see so many players walking away from the game they love. They’ll stick with it, try harder, and know that they’ll be judged on their abilities as athletes. I now feel the support of the NHL -- I feel included -- and that same feeling is going around from locker room to locker room, with hockey players of all ages, from Pee-Wee to NHL.

If you can play, you can play.

Come Out & Play! Hey Sporty Spice! Get out there and work it!

Written by Jeff Kagan, October 21, 2013
Published in Next Magazine

Come Out & Play! 
Hey Sporty Spice! Get out there and work it!

As the autumn air brings a slight chill, we're reminded of the return of fall and winter sports! It’s time to get out there and get some exercise other than lifting a cocktail or remote control. Here are just a few examples of the great LGBT sports organizations out there just waiting for you.

Instead of going to a bar to meet guys, you can go to BARS. That’s Big Apple Recreational Sports!  BARS is a 3-in-1 sports organization hosting Dodgeball, Kickball and Bowling! “We are a competitive league, but we found one of the things our players are most excited about is the friends and relationships they make within the league.” says Stephen Moreau, Commissioner.

Slip’n slide with the New York City Gay Hockey Association, now in its 14th year. The NYCGHA manages six co-ed teams at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. Games are on Saturday or Sunday afternoons and evenings. Beginners and "rink rats" welcome.

Get out of town and fly down a mountainside, or slowly make your way down the bunny-slope with the Ski Bums! Travel to some of the world's most spectacular places, with a focus on getting to know new people. This year, the Ski Bums have twenty trips planned in 2014 from Lake Placid, New York to Chamonix, France!  And look forward to their traditional “apr├Ęs-ski” gatherings: crisp beers, roaring fireplaces, and gorgeous mountain views.

Feel the need to dribble? Then the New York City Gay Basketball League is the place to be! Join these big boys as they run up and down the court at The Field House at Chelsea Piers on Sundays between 5pm and 8pm. "Our group is inclusive, diverse, and dedicated to breaking down stereotypes of LGBT athletes." says Kris Alspach, Commissioner, Mens Division. Afterwards, join the boys for a post-game happy hour at some of the local bars who sponsor the league.  

Brotherhood and camaraderie are the two words that best describe the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club! You’ll learn other words like scrum, pitch and flop at the post-game "third-half" (good food, great beer and bruises.) And as we speak, the Gotham Knights are preparing for the Bingham 2014 Cup, the largest non-professional rugby tournament in the world, which will be held in Sydney, Australia next August.

Run, Forrest, Run – with the Frontrunners! "We are a diverse group for runners, from first-time runners to local elites, who enjoy both running and socializing." says club President, Dave Lin. The group’s most popular run is on Saturday mornings at 10am when they meet and stretch at Rutgers Church on 73rd Street and Broadway, then head over to Central Park to do a loop. Bagels and coffee served afterwards back at the church. There are also weekly runs in Brooklyn for all you hipsters!

And lastly, where would sports be without cheerleading! Cheer New York will help you channel that pep in your step! And you’ll feel great cheering as their "Cheer for Life" mission helps local charities by giving back to the LGBT community. The cheerleaders typically flock together after each practice or game. They're quite the social club partaking in karaoke, brunches and more!

For more information on each of these organizations and many others, go to

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Top Ten Champions of the LGBT Sports Community, 2012

2012 was a significant year for LGBT sports community. Professional athletes, but gay and straight stood up for marriage equality and against homophobia, and some helped knock down stereotypes by proudly coming out of the closet while still participating in the sport they love. Advocacy by athletes took a front row seat at the game, making it easier for LGBTQ youth around the world to have a voice and a role model:

The San Francisco Giants baseball club proudly claimed their seventh World Series title this past October, but the team made history for a different reason. Last year, the Giants became the first professional sports team to participate in Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign, giving LGBTQ youth a hopeful message against gay bullying and homophobia. The Giants' video message was very well-received by the press and their fans and it got the ball rolling for dozens of teams around North America to do the same.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, an organization which advocates respect for all individuals involved in sports. Hudson's father taught him a very valuable lesson early on in his life: "Athletes become worthy of the greatest respect not when they win at their sport but when they stand up for the dignity of others and represent something bigger than themselves." Hudson applies that lesson to his work as he travels around the United States speaking with athletes of all ages.

Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play project has spent most of 2012 zipping around the United States and Canada to speak about homophobia in professional sports. His efforts not only work to eradicate homophobia within the locker room, but on the rink and on the field. In his own words, “Sportsmanship -- it’s treating your teammates, opponents and fans with respect.”

Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker on the NFL's Baltimore Ravens voiced his support for marriage equality when the issue was being put to a ballot initiative in Maryland earlier this year. His response drew strong criticism from Emmett C. Burns, a Maryland State delegate who urged the team's owner (Steve Biscotti) to "inhibit such expressions from your employee." Burns also stated that no other player in the NFL who supported Ayanbadejo. But he was wrong.

Chris Kluwe, a punter with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings challenged Emmett Burns by sending him an open letter which stated, "Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level." Kluwe's letter called the state delegate out for violating Ayanbadejo's right to free speech, and it also contained such entertaining phrases as "narcissistic fromunda stain" and "mindfuckingly, obscenely hypocritical."

On October 19, 2012, Orlando Cruz faced Jorge Pazos in the boxing ring on a warm October evening in Kissimmee, Florida. Cruz’s mother was in the crowd cheering him on, along with thousands of fans at the arena. Two weeks earlier, Cruz issued a press release announcing he was a “proud gay man”. During a post-fight interview, Cruz told ESPN," I was very happy that they respect me. That's what I want -- them to see me as a boxer, as an athlete and as a man in every sense of the word.” Oh, and he won the fight.

23 Openly Gay Olympians: In July, just five days before the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games, 11,000 athletes arrived in the foggy city. Their arrival is attributed to a massive influx of new subscribers (and temporary crash) on the social networking smartphone app Grindr. We don’t know how many of the athletes scored, but 10 of the 23 won medals, four of them gold.

In November 2011, professional Rugby player Ben Cohen launched Stand Up Magazine, a national quarterly publication which hopes to showcase “the importance of positive role models, fairness, character and leadership across all levels of sports.” Ben is spreading his message not only through his new magazine, but also through The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation which works to fight homophobia and bullying against children.

NFL player Wade Davis was a defensive back for the Tennessee Titans several years ago. At the time, he struggled with his sexual orientation, but kept hidden the fact that he was a gay man playing in professional sports.  Now retired from football, Davis spends his days as a staff member at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which serves LGBTQ youth in New York City.  He works as the Assistant Director of Job Readiness, preparing teens to go out into the work-force.

Corey Johnson made national news back in 1999 when the linebacker and captain of his high school football team came out of the closet. After moving to New York and co-founding the New York Gay Football League, Johnson became the Board Chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 4 working to better his community. He now has his eye set on politics throwing his in the ring and hoping replace term-limited Christine Quinn on the New York City Council in the 2013 election.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Birdie In The Hand

A Birdie In The Handby Jeff Kagan

Shuttlecock. No, it isn’t a term to describe a sex act in outer space, but rather, it’s the small, feathered object used in the game of badminton. The shuttlecock, also called a “birdie” is smacked back and forth by racquet-wielding opponents, each hoping the other misses the birdie, as it falls, lifelessly to the Earth. Badminton has been an Olympic sport since 1992, although it was first introduced in the mid-18th century in British-occupied India as a pastime while trying to avoid getting Cholera.

Suman Chakraborty started playing at the age of seven in a suburb of Montreal, Canada, where he was raised. He and his classmates would attend Sunday school at the local junior college where they learned to speak in the family’s native tongue, Bengali. While the kids were in school, their parents would pass the time playing badminton. As classes ended, the kids came out to join their parents on the court. Suman recalls, “It was part of my childhood for as long as I can remember, and one I cherished. My friends and I spent our formative years trying to get good enough to beat our parents. I do remember the amazing feeling I had the first time I beat my father on the court; it was like I had finally grown up.”

And having grown up, Suman moved to New Jersey to attend college, and then eventually settled in New York City. But sadly, the badminton birdie was no longer in his life. He carried on. Some years later, he joined the local gay basketball league to expand his social circle. But after only one season, he had the opportunity to go abroad, to London. “When I first arrived in London, I didn’t know a single person. I had been playing in the NYC Gay Basketball League before my move and met some great people. I figured joining a sports team was a good was to make new friends in my new city.” Upon searching for a group, Suman was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are four gay badminton clubs in London.  He immediately contacted one called Goslings and within four days of landing in London, he bought a cheap racquet and headed to his first session. 

Being on the badminton court always brings back wonderful memories. He says, “Every time I get on the court, I feel like I’m going back to a place where I’m comfortable. I always think about my days as a kid playing with my dad; I think about my days as a teenager playing for my high school.”

After a year in London, Suman returned to New York, wanting his life to include the friendships and fun that Goslings of London brought him.  He didn’t have an inkling of how to find others who were interested in badminton, but he tried some unconventional methods. He sheepishly says, “I’ll admit that in my profile on a certain iPhone app (which shall remain nameless), I suggested that anyone who played badminton should contact me.”  That didn’t turn out to be a great source of leads (for badminton, anyway).  But after setting up a page on, things started to roll, and the organization mailing list grew from a handful of “smashers” to 175 potential players, which helped Suman to successfully launch New York’s first gay badminton club. And as an homage to the group which inspired him, he named the club Goslings NYC

Suman hopes that the people who come to play will see Goslings NYC as a community within the gay social scene -- a place where they can make new friends in a positive environment to share in the enjoyment of the game that he holds in his heart. Suman has many plans for the group, including participation in the Gay Games in Cleveland in 2014. He smirks and says, “And if I ever get my American friends to stop giggling like a schoolgirl whenever they hear the word ‘shuttlecock’, I’ll consider that a major accomplishment too.”

Learn more about Goslings NYC at

In and Out of the Locker Room

In and Out of the Locker Room
by Jeff Kagan

Upon hearing the quick rhythm of Truett Lee Vaigneur, Jr.’s speaking voice, one might place him as an auctioneer from Baton Rouge or perhaps a fast-talking city official from Atlanta. His southern twang has a twist of what sounds like Cajun. As difficult as it is to pinpoint exactly where he’s from, the avid tennis enthusiast hails from Barnwell, South Carolina. Truett was born in the same hospital as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, also known as “the hardest working man in show business” which is quite fitting, as Truett just might be “the hardest working man in academia”.

Truett is an adjunct professor and counselor at several of the City University of New York campuses and he’s currently working on an Educational Doctorate (EdD) degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus. “I research subcultures within the mainstream campus culture, for the past few years it’s been gay male college athletes, specifically athletes playing non-team sports. The focus is identity formation,” he says. And he’s channeling his extensive research into a documentary on the subject entitled The University Pool which showcases three gay former college swimmers and how being athletes has influenced their individual development, helping to turn them into the successful young men they are. He says, “I wanted to create conversations with gay athletes that was not focused in a locker room environment. While the locker room seems like a great place to start, the subjects aren’t always in a relaxed state, walking around in towels and taking showers, especially young men who are still discovering themselves.” Truett’s work follows the logic that an athlete is gay both inside the locker room, and when they leave it. “Every athlete — college or pro — identifies with athleticism, but how strong the identification is will actually be a result of what happens away from the playing field. There are family influences, religious influences, etc.; researching athletes is not a brush-stroke technique.”

As an academic, Truett studies the developmental aspect of gay athletes, but his interest in participating in sports began many years ago, when he was younger. Sports were a source of great enjoyment for him in junior high school back in South Carolina, where he played baseball, volleyball and tennis, the latter being his favorite. “I played a lot as a child, but my family moved from one small southern town to another when I was in high school, and there were no team sports other than football and basketball, so I stopped playing altogether.” he says. Sports can play a very important role in our lives, but the sport itself isn’t the defining aspect of who an athlete is. Being a tennis player is a major factor of how Truett identifies himself, but he says that the sport itself hasn’t done much to change his life. The key is participation, which leads to further development of his self-esteem and a positive self-image as an athlete. He says, “It enhances who I am, however, it is my involvement with tennis and the various LGBT sports leagues that has really changed who I am by showing me I can just be myself as a gay man — and an athlete.” In The University Pool, Truett hopes to show that it is possible for young gay men to be athletes and also be out of the closet. The three young men who we featured in the documentary may have had difficult times in the past, but the reality is that athleticism was there. It was a positive factor that gave them confidence and a sense of self-awareness that they might not have had otherwise.

Taking A Dive

Taking A Dive
by Jeff Kagan

There is an old joke asking why sharks don’t attack lawyers. The answer is: professional courtesy. Attorney Eric Heller knows this first hand, as he's met quite a few sharks. Eric is a member of the Village Dive Club, New York City’s LGBT scuba diving club. He has traveled to the four corners of the Earth finding thrilling underwater adventures or a remarkable inner peace. During a night dive in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies, Eric slowly descended about a hundred feet down a sea wall and then turned off his dive light. Gradually, the water began to glow with bioluminescent phytoplankton. He hung off the wall, alone at night, looking into the deep and surrounded by what looked like glowing fireflies. He explains, "The experience of diving itself is transcendental: you are weightless, floating, flying, and even diving with a buddy, you are alone with your thoughts, isolated except for the sound of your breathing, the fish chewing on coral and the waves. It is almost meditative."

Eric’s interest in scuba diving derives directly from Tae Kwon Do (a form of martial arts). As a pre-teen he took Tae Kwon Do classes, but he would beg his parents to drop him off early or pick him up late so he could spend time in the scuba diving shop next door. “I talked the scuba shop owner's ears off, looked at all the cool equipment and waited patiently until I turned 13 and could get certified,” he says.

Every October the dive shop would host an underwater pumpkin-carving contest at the lake. Eric quickly learned the trick to winning after watching people struggling to drag a very buoyant pumpkin to the depths below, saying, “Bash a hole in the pumpkin on the surface. And avoid cutting yourself while fumbling with a dive knife and a pumpkin at 30 feet in murky water!”

As the president of the Village Dive Club, Eric is happily joined by his partner-in-brine, Christopher Spivey on most excursions. The two met almost 15 years ago in Oklahoma. Within a few months of meeting, Christopher realized he would have to get his scuba certification if the relationship was going to work. “He braved the cold waters of Lake Tenkiller in Eastern Oklahoma for me!” says Eric. That’s love. Although Christopher has made it clear to his beau that he would not partake in cold water dives anymore, he has no objections in accompanying Eric on an upcoming trip to Bali next month.

Eric gets all bubbly thinking about the many dives he's taken, exploring the glistening landscapes under the sea, encountering so many unusual creatures: from the bioluminescent phytoplankton to the 30-foot long whale sharks who feast upon them. Talk about a light meal…

Eric’s only scare was on a dive in Fiji when a tiger shark joined the group along with some smaller reef sharks. "The dive guides tensed up and started paying attention when this huge shark approached, I knew it was serious.  But I still tried to get as close as I could to see it." he said. Not to worry -- nothing happened. As we said earlier: professional courtesy.

Learn more about the Village Dive Club at