By coming out, Gophers runners hope to inspire

Brad Neumann and Justin Rabon recently shared their relationship with the public.

Brad Neumann, left, and Justin Rabon pose for a photo at Van Cleve Park on Friday, June 9. 2017. The sprinters came out to each other through a text message, and are happily together two and a half years later.

Easton Green

Brad Neumann, left, and Justin Rabon pose for a photo at Van Cleve Park on Friday, June 9. 2017. The sprinters came out to each other through a text message, and are happily together two and a half years later.

Jack Warrick

The bond first developed in high school.

Brad Neumann and Justin Rabon met running track for separate teams in Wisconsin.

What started as a secret has now been shared with the public by Rabon and Neumann — the two are a couple.

The Gophers teammates shared their story with Outsports, a media outlet that publishes articles on gay athletes, and Outsports ran a series of articles on May 30 about their coming out stories and their relationship through track.

“That’s why we wrote the stories,” Neumann said. “Not so much to tell our story as an entertainment type of piece for people. It was so it could reach the kids that need to read it.”

Rabon’s mother, Neyahte Martins, said she thinks it’s good Neumann and her son have received publicity.

“If what they’ve gone through and the stories they can share can help someone else, I think it’s a positive thing,” Martins said. “I don’t think he thought it was going to get this big.”

A secret shared

When the pair met in high school, they concealed their sexuality until Rabon felt comfortable enough to tell Neumann in college. Neumann came out to Rabon the next day.

“We just kept in contact, comparing [college] programs,” Neumann said. “After that, it got into a deeper friendship where we would share more personal things. That got to the point where we cared about each other a lot, and he felt comfortable enough to come out to me.”

The two ran in the same division of high school track and field in Wisconsin. They would have run against each other in the state final for the 200 meterdash, but Neumann false started in a qualifying round and Rabon took the state title, along with a state title in the 400 meter and the 4 by 400 meter races.

The pair had different high school experiences. Rabon grew up in Milwaukee and went to Shorewood High School, a public school just north of the city.

“It was a very free, accepting type of environment,” Rabon said. “But it wasn’t so free to the point where you could come out like that because I would still be a little afraid of the ridicule.”

Meanwhile, Neumann is from Peshtigo, Wisconsin., a small town of about 3,500.

“It was the same group of kids [from] preschool through senior year,” Neumann said. “You hear all these jokes about gay guys and just the term used so derogatory towards people that if somebody knew that you were gay, it seemed like it was literally social suicide.”

Rabon decided he would commit to Wisconsin, while Neumann was split between Wisconsin and Minnesota for track, Neumann said.

He reached out to Rabon to figure out his plans for college, and they planned on rooming together if Neumann ended up in Madison, but he later chose Minnesota.

Rabon decides to transfer

Though the two picked different schools, Neumann and Rabon kept in contact. Their relationship grew and, in November of 2014, they came out to each other.

Rabon transferred to Minnesota after his sophomore year in 2015.

“Soon as I got here, I was just who I am,” Rabon said. “I let people know right away, except for the track team.”

The two said the track team had problems with homophobic speech but has improved since the two came out.

“They’ve definitely become a lot more conscious of what they said,” Neumann said. “A lot of them realized that literally anybody could actually be gay.”

Neumann said when he came out to the team as gay, it didn’t necessarily affect his performance, but it “affected the entire team dynamic” because he wasn’t hiding anything anymore.

Rabon ran with Neumann in the 2015-16 season until Rabon injured his foot in the last week of practice.

He chose to not run anymore after his junior year foot injury.

The road ahead

Neumann — who recently helped break the 4 by 400-meter relay record at Minnesota — has one more semester of eligibility and will run in the indoor fall season next year. He will also student coach in the spring outdoor season.

After that, he plans to take a year off to see if he can do something with coaching, and if that doesn’t work out, he said he will apply for chiropractic school.

Rabon is now working toward his personal training license and plans to take a gap year as well.

He also plans to apply for physical therapy school.

“If I could get involved in some type of campaign to advocate and speak for the [LGBT] community, that would be nice. I’d love that,” Rabon said.