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U.S. Figure Skater Adam Rippon: 'Embrace who you are'

Olympic medalist shares lessons at 'newbo evolve'

CEDAR RAPIDS — Adam Rippon admitted to about 300 “newbo evolve” patrons he had been telling people he was going to a festival in Grand Rapids.

But now that his flight landed a little farther to the west, he said: “I love it here.”

He reiterated that in a short interview with The Gazette following his Saturday afternoon discussion on “Being My True Self,” held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex downtown.

“It’s so beautiful,” he said after spending just two hours in Cedar Rapids. “There’s just so much open, beautiful space that I actually texted two of my friends, and was like, ‘There’s a part of me that’s so confused, because I feel like I would totally love living here.’”

And we have a place where he can ice skate. “All the more reason to,” he replied.

He said he’ll continue to sing the city’s praises when he leaves after Sunday’s presentation, entitled “What Inspires Me,” scheduled for 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Convention Center. Like all the other newbo evolve celebrity presentations, it’s open only to the festival’s three-day pass-holders.

Rippon, 28, glided into the collective consciousness as the first openly gay American figure skater to compete at the Olympics, where in 2018 he won a bronze medal in the team skating event.

He went on to win Season 26 of “Dancing With the Stars: Athletes” in May and has been named one of the judges for the new “Dancing With the Stars: Juniors,” premiering Oct. 7 on ABC.

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He was 22 when he came out to his family. But while coming out on the world stage has given him a platform to champion the issues faced in the LGTBQ community, he stressed it’s only one facet of his being.

“It’s part of my story, like being from Scranton, Pa., is part of my story,” he said. “When I decided to come out, I said, ‘This is not a big deal in my personal life, so I’m not going to make it a big deal in my professional life.’”

After he made the cut for the World Figure Skating Championships in 2015, he came out to a reporter to note “what an important role (being gay) played” in his life and why he “wanted to throw it out there.”

“It was something that was important to me,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not the focal point of who I am as a person. So I just threw it in there,” in the middle of the interview.

Then everything snowballed, and he has hit the talk-show circuit and reality television and speaking engagements, like newbo evolve.

The panel discussion topics are what lured him to Cedar Rapids. “It felt really true to me, about sharing my story,” he said. “It sometimes feels like such a broad subject line, but I feel the way I got to really fulfilling my own passions narrowed that focus down. It made it really specific and something I could really grab onto.”

Also breaking barriers was the moderator for his Saturday discussion — Tahera Rahman from WHBF-TV in the Quad Cities, the first female broadcast reporter to wear a hijab head-covering on American TV.

“You are an amazing figure skater who happens to be gay,” she said to Rippon. “I think that’s an important distinction. I think it’s important to recognize the mark that has on history. ...

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“But at the same time, for me at least, one of the biggest challenges was making sure that people also recognized my craft, and making sure that the craft speaks for itself, because all of those obstacles, those rejections year after year, week after week, you’re putting in the hard work day after day,” she said, adding that “the road isn’t just about you anymore at that point. It’s about people who come after you and follow in your footsteps. I feel like that’s where we are today with you — with your story resonating with people not only across the nation, but around the world.”

He teared up later, when explaining that all the years of focusing on the hard work of becoming an elite athlete led to one of his scariest moments: realizing that he was representing the LGBTQ community — and his family — on the world stage.

“The Olympics wasn’t for me, it was for everybody else,” he said. “Everything I had done for myself I’d already done. I had to be a warrior in that moment.”

He continues to be a warrior and role model, not only for the LGBTQ community but for everyone else as he spreads his message of working hard, giving 100 percent and never giving up.

He hopes everyone can experience the freedom that follows coming out of whatever they need to acknowledge to be true to themselves.

“It’s not LGBTQ exclusive,” he said. “That’s a moment when you embrace who you are, and you own that. For me, it was so powerful, so I hope that when I share my story and the things that I’ve been through, even someone who doesn’t identify in that community still finds a moment where they’re like, ‘Yeah, I need to go through that in my own life, and I can apply that in my own life.’”

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.