Samuel Ciochon was an NCAA Division I swimmer at the University of Illinois-Chicago who now works in the Chicago real-estate market. He was an openly gay athlete in both high school and college and now, for the first time, Ciochon shares his story exclusively with Windy City Times.
Being an openly gay swimmer in high school and then at an NCAA Division I school didn't affect Samuel Ciochon, 24, in the pool.
His sexual orientation didn't make him faster or slower.
"The only thing [being gay] does [for a swimmer] is, [it] makes you want to wear cuter swimsuits," he said, laughing. "I've been a huge advocate since I came out that being gay doesn't change me. I'm still the same country boy from Wisconsin with huge morals. I love my family and friends. I still work hard, if not harder than anyone else. Gay doesn't define me. I'm way more than [just] being gay."
Ciochon ( pronounced "sha-hon" ) lives in Chicago's River North neighborhood and is a rising real-estate consultant with Coldwell Banker Previews. He has worked in the industry for about five years, including time while a student at the University of Illinois-Chicago ( UIC )an out student-athlete, that is.
Ciochon started swimming at age 2 and was a competitive swimmer growing up with Ozaukee Aquatics in Cedarburg, Wis., even qualifying and medaling at state and regional meets.
He then was a four-year varsity swimmer at West Bend West High School in Wisconsin, graduating in 2007 after competing in various swimming races, with numerous All-Conference honors, multiple school records and more.
Ciochon swam for UIC for three years and was top 16 in all events at the collegiate conference meet. He earned a bachelors degree in Economics with an Emphasis in Real Estate in 2012.
Ciochon came out at age 14, as a high school freshman.
"My coming-out was unbelievable, and I thank my higher power that it was that way," he said. "My [high] school was extremely progressive in terms of the support system that they had for their LGBT students. The first people I told were my family, whom shockingly were extremely supportive. The safety concerns that my mother had were dissipated once she attended a PFLAG meeting.
"We had a wonderful support system with our guidance counselors. Lois Pellegrini was a leader in LGBT rights, and I was lucky enough to have her as a guidance counselor and be great friends with her daughter. Lois established a care group for LGBT students to meet once a week as a safe haven to discuss issues, educate, and mentor. We had around 60 students who attended this, even though half of them weren't fully out to the rest of the student population."
Ciochon said he was "fortunate" to not get picked on, anchored by his ability to be strong-willed and care-free.
"I choose to live everyday with the happiness of being myself, and I never had issues with anyone on my teams with me being gay," he said. "My perception of how the team handled [a gay teammate], and how others perceived they handled it, are two separate experiences.
"Swimming was my life. The famous phrase that I ate, slept and breathed swimming was an understatement. Luckily, I was always the fastest swimmer on my high school team plus the team captain my senior year. The guys saw how many hours I would be in the pool. High school swimming for me wasn't about making friends on the team. I was a leader, and I demanded respect."
He thrived on his club team, and also built lifelong friendships among his teammates.
"Being gay wasn't an issue [on the club team]," he said. "No one dated [and] we didn't drink. Who had time for that?! It was about the sport and the friendships. Plus, it kept me very innocent to the outside world, which allowed me to mature in a completely different way than most. My team was almost my incubator, my sanctuary. It allowed me to express who I truly wanted to be. For all of this, I am forever grateful that I was given that opportunity."
Things changed, somewhat, when Ciochon landed in Chicago for collegetwo weeks after his 18th birthday. He worked in the city, too, to help pay for his education. Swimming then was not his main focus for the first time.
"It was about exploring other life possibilities," he said.
Ciochon said he was called a fag a few times in high school, but it didn't impact him.
"I believe in the laws of attraction," he said. "What you visualize and think is what you are going to find more frequently. I am a very positive person; my stepmother taught me this at age 12, and it has helped me get through every situation. If I got upset at every little thing, I would never be happy."
Ciochon still swims, though not on a regular schedule, and he has even participated in a few meets since graduating.
Memories, though, are plentiful18 years of swimming smiles.
"The people who I met through [swimming] have forever changed my life," he said. "The one thing I love about swimmers, no matter where you go in life, swimmers always can connect on a different level. Swimmers are a different breed."
Ciochon said he's considering swimming this summer in Cleveland at Gay Games 9, or perhaps at the Games in 2018 in Paris.
"I would love to compete [at] the Gay Games, and I have looked into it numerous times. It has been my goal for the past four years when I heard about it for the first time. All I have to say is, I need to whip my butt into shape," he said.
"I will swim until the day I die. It is my past, my present, and my future. It is who I am," he said.
Ciochon has played volleyball in the predominantly gay Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) for the past five years.
But nowadays, Ciochon's world is a lot more professionalat least professionally dressed.
"After being personally mentored by three of Chicago's top producers, I am proud to announce that I have just affiliated my personal team with Coldwell Banker Previews," he said. "I grew up as a military brat. Moving came with the territory, and I have developed a strange obsession with the whole process. I mean, who has seriously moved 24 times in 24 years? I bring that passion to my clients, whom typically find it more annoying than exciting. Real estate is everything that I could have ever wanted it to be: a businessman, teacher, coach, consultant, decorator, psychologist, entrepreneur, salesman, and even a CEO. Every morning, I wake up excited to see what the new day will bring. I couldn't imagine doing anything different."
Ciochon this year is launching a new real-estate team affiliated with Coldwell Banker: Chicago LifestyleLuxury Real Estate Experts. "Our goal is to capture the lifestyle behind the property," he said. "That was my main decision to collaborate with Coldwell Bankers Previews. As a certified Luxury Previews Property Specialist, it enhances the experience each client receives, on top of getting a true international network.
"Chicago is such an amazing city for the fact that we are so diverse in our real estate. Although I have done the gamete, my main focus is on the condo and single-family home market in Near North, Lincoln Park and Lakeview [neighborhoods]."
Ciochon started in the industry at the bottom of the market, he said, "and I have adapted to the way consumers want information," he said. "There is a lot of data that is accessible to everyone just due to the Internet, and my job is to take that data and interpret it to maximize your results. I work with buyers and sellers. Each one should be treated differently. My goal is to enhance their results through tailored services that meet the individual client's needs. For sellers, this means a full pricing consultation and marketing strategy. For buyers, I meet with them for a personalized consultation, so they can trust in my abilities and knowledge of the market. In this spring market especially, we are seeing a lack of inventory and a high demand for properties. This is resulting in multiple offers and appraisal issues. We come up with a full strategy prior to give my clients the most competitive edge and luckily with my years of experience, I have made business connections to assist with any issues that may arise."
About 50 percent of Ciochon's clients are LGBT, including luxury, first-time homebuyers, investors, sellers, and renters.
"I am extremely focused on life both in business and personal, and 2014 is going to be a great year," he said. "I am extremely excited for this summerfor the margaritas, beach, and country music that it will have in store for me. In my free time, I love volunteering. I just started working at the Animal Care and Control trying to save some amazing animals that need love in their lives. Also, I am trying to expand the UIC Athletic Alumni Club, which works on assisting athletes to maximize their potential through money and equipment."