Featured in the April/ May 2018 Travel Issue of Compete Magazine

For our travel issue I wanted to share with you what has made me love travel so much. My first real “adult” trip was an adventure from my Denver home across the mountain, braving severe turbulence and jagged peaks all the way to beautiful … Salt Lake City!


While not the most adventurous of my trips, what made it special wasn’t so much about where I was going but instead, why I was going. I was attending my first swim competition in another state with my swim teammates; we ventured over the Rockies together for the annual Queer Utah Aquatic Club Ski-n-Swim weekend.


I had never really considered Salt Lake City as a “must visit” destination since to my inexperienced tourist sensibility, there wasn’t much to offer unless you were really into Mormons, skiing or salty water. Yet of all the trips I have taken since then, that trip still stands out because of the wonderful memories and amazing friends I made during that weekend.


Because of swimming I have gotten to travel all over the world. I’ve seen many different countries and had adventures that I never could have imagined, from meeting celebrities and trying new foods to even learning a new language. And of course the best part is all the amazing friends I’ve made. It is such a wonderful feeling to have a purpose for your travel.


At the 2014 Gay Games held in Cleveland, Ohio, many people balked at the thought of going to Cleveland – you heard lots of “Why would they hold the Gay Games there?” Granted, Cleveland seemed an odd choice to me; it’s not exactly the first place I would think about visiting but none of that really mattered. What really mattered was that I was going to the Gay Games no matter where it was being hosted.


Than from the moment I stepped off the plane my trip was filled with wonderful experiences; friendly people, tasty restaurants, roller coasters and so much more. And that was before the competition even started. I didn’t think much of Cleveland beforehand. But having a specific reason to travel there for the Gay Games and having wonderful experiences with the local people helped changed my preconceived notions about the city.


That is not the only time I have had such a great experience in a city that most people might not consider particularly travel-worthy. Edmonton in Canada’s Alberta province and Limerick, Ireland as well as Texas cities Austin and San Antonio and Greensboro, North Carolina are just a few examples. Of course, my experience in these cities might have been enhanced by the excitement and accomplishments of the event but the end result was a lasting sense of connection.


Regardless of where you travel to compete, the best part is the people you will meet. Every sporting event needs volunteers to help with a variety of tasks and the event organizers are often residents of the host city who are happy and proud to show off their home town. And because it’s a community effort, the volunteers are as deeply invested in your experience as you are.


Chatting and getting to know some of the volunteers who are generously giving you their time and effort so you can compete at your best is a really rewarding experience. Not only do you make fast friends, you also get to know the city more intimately because they can offer great tips and suggestions of things to experience. You might even create your own cheering section.


Expanding your horizons by taking in the scenery and culture of a host city is important – it’s what Mark Twain says is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” And after a solid competition, I might even treat myself to a leisurely day of fun at the local amusement park as a reward. Whatever that “reward” is for you, you can rest assured that it’ll be a great way to end your trip on an amazing experience that you’ll remember for years to come.


And have I mentioned the next Gay Games are in Paris in August? That’s going to be a fun trip!


By Dirk Smith