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Countdown to the Gay Games: Tuaolo
by Ross Forman

This article shared 3696 times since Wed Mar 22, 2006
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Age: 37

Born in: Waimanalo, Hawaii

Resides in: Eden Prairie, Minn.

Childhood: Youngest of eight children

Partner: Mitchell Wherley

Children: Mitchell and Michele, both 5

Gay Games sports: flag football and volleyball

Hobbies: Loves to read and, 'just being a dad.'

Cooking: Tuaolo is a terrific chef, with most of his recipes adopted from his mom's cooking. His specialty is Polynesian food, especially fish and pork dishes. He has his own teriyaki sauce that is a family secret.

All-time favorite restaurant: Roy's in Honolulu

On Brokeback Mountain: 'I think that movie will help a lot of other people. It's inspiring a lot of people. I totally related to that movie because I was like one of those guys. I cried at the movie when I saw it. The movie touches the gay man who has been hiding in the closet for the longest time, not the gay man who came out when he was 12. Gay men who have been in the closet in the macho world that we live in can relate to this movie; that's why it touched me so hard.'

If a pro athlete will come out while active: 'I hope and hopefully before I die somebody will. But I don't think we're there yet. When it happens, it will be an incredible thing, much like Jackie Robinson,' breaking the color barrier in baseball.

The big, bad former pro football player admits he probably will be a crybaby at the Gay Games. Of course, those will be tears of joy for Esera Tuaolo, a defensive tackle whose NFL career spanned nine seasons ( 1991-'99 ) with five teams, highlighted by an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIII with Atlanta.

'I think the Games will be incredible,' he said. 'It's an incredible thing that we can all come together and compete, be it gay or straight, and all of the events are regulated so if you break a world's record, it counts. The best thing about the Games is, everyone can compete—from your mom to world-class sprinters. This is what the Olympics should be.

'The concept is awesome.'

Tuaolo will be in Chicago for the Games to compete and also as an Ambassador, joining a small, elite lineup that includes Melissa Etheridge, Rudy Galindo, Sir Elton John, Billie Jean King, Billy Bean and others.

'I'll probably be a crybaby because all of the emotion will bubble over. I know it will be overwhelming for me, to be there with all of the athletes,' Tuaolo said. 'This is something I never thought in my wildest dreams I could compete in.'

Tuaolo will be singing at the Opening Ceremony, held at Soldier Field—the same, sacred football setting where he once hunted Bears.

'The Opening Ceremony is going to be out of control. I just hope I don't faint,' said Tuaolo, who has sung the national anthem before three NFL games while playing. 'The overwhelming emotion for me will be that I'll be standing there, right in the middle, as a gay athlete—something I've always wanted to do my whole life. People will look at me from the stands and know that I am a gay athlete, and I'm proud of that. I won't have to be in the closet, like I was when I was playing in the NFL.

'I know the Gay Games will compare right there with being in the Super Bowl because I now feel free. I'm so much healthier now, so much happier. This is going to be great.'

Tuaolo will be joined in Chicago by his partner of nine years, Mitchell Wherley, although Wherley will not be competing in any event.

'I am so honored, so excited, and so humbled to be a Gay Games Ambassador. I'll be standing in the presence of greats ... . This is closure for me, confirmation. I just want to be in the presence of people who are so accepting of others,' Tuaolo said. With a laugh, he added, 'When they signed Elton John as an Ambassador, I thought I lost my job.'

What about a duet with John? 'That would be a dream come true; it'd be fantastic,' Tuaolo said.

Tuaolo stated that he isn't nervous about the Games, but rather, excited. 'The NFL prepared me for anything and everything that life can throw at you,' he said.

Tuaolo will participate in flag football and volleyball. 'I just hope I don't get a flashback and take someone's head off; I'm kidding,' he said, laughing. Tuaolo has not played flag football in some time, but said, 'It's just like riding a bike—you never forget.'

Tuaolo said he is a 'big-time volleyball player,' who has played since he was a kid. It's a sport that he takes very seriously and is a sport that he's very good at. 'My volleyball team will be there to compete, to win, not just to look good,' he said. 'Sure, the competitiveness drives me to win, but just being there is incredible; it's gonna be so cool.'

Tuaolo said the person he most wants to meet this summer in Chicago is tennis icon Billie Jean King. And he plans to get her autograph and a photograph with her, too. 'I think she's amazing, phenomenal. She's a legend,' he said.

Tuaolo's autobiography, In The Trenches: My Life As A Gay Man In The NFL, was released March 15. He will be selling personally autographed editions on his Web site ( see ) , and also at the April 22-23 Champions weekend of Gay Games VII. See .

This article shared 3696 times since Wed Mar 22, 2006
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