By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Ian Thorpe, better known as the “Thorpedo” is arguably one of the most successful and famous swimmers in the world. Hailing from Australia, the Olympic swimmer won a total of five gold medals, three silver medals and a bronze medal at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games as well as numerous national and world championships. He gave serious competition to Michael Phelps in his pursuit of Olympic glory and has represented Australia on the highest levels of swimming. But a trip to New York in the fall of 2001 almost changed all of that.

During the vacation he took with a friend, the two had planned a full day of sightseeing around the city. Earlier in the morning, Thorpe went for a run around the city and then returned to his hotel to wake up his friend Michelle. The two planned to visit the observation deck of the Twin Towers earlier in the morning, but were running late after Michelle had slept in. As he explains the story…

“I went down there on the morning of 9/11. It was early in the morning and I went for a run. I grabbed a coffee and walked back to my hotel room, and literally in that period of time the planes hit. It was a very, very close call.”

“I had a friend Michelle who was staying with me. She was the one who was going to get up and go for a run. I was telling her to wake me up because we were going to go to the World Trade Centre together.

“I said we could go up the World Trade Centre in the morning and then you do the Empire State Building at night. But in the end I was the one that went down there. With things like that, you realise it’s fate. Some things were meant to be, and I realise I am very lucky.”

Thorpe was in New York City, which he considers as a second home, to pursue his career interests in fashion and talk about his swimming career, which included an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Following that fateful day, Thorpe went on to have a successful swimming career and after a brief comeback, officially retired from professional swimming in 2012. During that time, Thorpe had been constantly bombarded with speculation about his sexual orientation. He had been struggling with crippling depression, alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. After years of publicly denying the speculation surrounding his sexual orientation, Thorpe came out as gay in 2014 during an interview with British talk show host, Michael Parkinson.

“I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man. And I don’t want people to feel the same way I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.” He added “I am telling the world that I am gay … and I hope this makes it easier for others now, and even if you’ve held it in for years, it feels easier to get it out.”

Thorpe pursues work as a motivational speaker, activist, fashion designer and philanthropist back in Australia

By Dirk Smith

Photo by Ian Thorpe via Wikimedia Commons