Mike Welch: An athlete defying heteronormative trends

This story was originally published on March 1, 2022.

Image courtesy of Nazareth College

Popular athletics and sports culture has long been a domain of heteronormative thinking. The field’s identity has been dominated by strong and fit men for thousands of years. Numerous studies have been published describing the toxic state that sports culture has found itself in.

As acceptance of gay, lesbian, transgender and queer people in society is growing, more and more athletes feel comfortable enough to break their silence to live and compete as their true selves.

Mike Welch is a 20-year-old psychology student at Nazareth College in Rochester. He enjoys indie, alternative and punk music and makes music of his own in his free time (streaming at mikemike on all services). He runs track and field in the sprint and jumps positions. He is also openly gay. Tonight, Welch was kind enough to discuss his life and his future.

Welch’s Instagram profile is filled both with confident images of himself and of pro-LGBT memes, which he often posts together. Welch considers himself an active part of the LGBT community, saying, “I am a part of a student athlete diversity and inclusion group here at Naz. I also try to spread positive queer messages on my social medias whenever I can.”

Welch knew he was gay long before he became a student at Nazareth and struggled with his sexuality since he was 12. He first said he was bisexual at 14 before finally coming out as gay at 16.

“Overall, I was less confused about a lot of things regarding my identity when I came out. My confidence grew so quickly, and my athletic performance improved as well,” Welch said.

Welch luckily said that he has not experienced homophobia to his face from any of his teammates, adding “I wouldn’t care what they think of me anyway. I don’t play sports to impress people.”

So far, Welch has been accepted by not only his teammates but by his coaches, too.

When asked about the heteronormative culture of athletics, Welch said “Strength is stereotypically associated with masculinity, so anything breaks away from traditional masculinity is seen as weaker.”

Welch does not see himself as weaker. Quite the opposite in fact. He sees himself as just another college athlete whose sexual identity needs not interfere with his performance on the field, saying, “I’m able to show that being gay has nothing to do with my masculinity, whatever that truly means, and it has nothing to do with my abilities as an athlete.”

Welch is on the field for the 2021–2022 Men’s Track and Field team. This will be his third season. Welch is an eager competitor. When asked what upcoming events he had to be excited about he answered, “I’m excited for the indoor regional track meet that I have this weekend (March 4th and 5th, 2022) and I am also excited for our outdoor conference championship meet that is going to take place on our home track here at Naz.”

Welch has found success on the field, best summarized by his bio page of Naz Athletics’ website.

Current season: Welch ran well for the Golden Flyers during the indoor and outdoor seasons in 2021… placed second in the 4 x 400-meter relay (3:36.80) at the Empire 8 indoor meet as well as third in both the 200- and 400-meter dashes in :23.69 and :51.91 respectively… the outdoor season featured second place in the 400-meter dash (:50.96) at the E8 meet and third in the 4 x 400-meter relay (3:32.93)… had personal-best times in the 100-meter dash (:11.42), the 200 (:22.61) and the 400 (:50.91).

2019–20: Welch ran well during the 2020 indoor season, highlighted by a first-place finish in the distance medley relay (10:58.37) at the Empire 8 Conference meet… also placed fourth in the 4 x 400-meter relay (3:30.75) and seventh in the 200-meter dash with a time of :23.65… other top times included 7.68 in the 60-meter dash and :52.93 in the 400-meter dash.

Welch has also found success musically, humbly stating “One of my songs has gotten over 10k streams so that was pretty cool even though I just make music for fun.”

Welch has big plans for his future that include and go beyond athletics. He told me “I want to be a licensed mental health counselor and I’m interested in working as a college counselor. I plan to keep running and playing soccer for as long as I can after college. I’m still making new music, but I do that mostly for myself and I don’t have any big expectations regarding that. And currently I’m more focused on my own personal goals rather than looking for a relationship.”

Welch came off as confident and for lack of a better word, normal. He is having the college experience that many non-heterosexual people were unable to have in the past (and that many still are unable to have today).

Welch says that in 2022, he’s doing great. Hopefully that trend continues as Welch grows as a professional, as an athlete and as a confident young man. Good luck this weekend, Mike!

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