By Dirk Smith, MSc, SDL (He/Him)

Professional swimmer and gay heartthrob Michael Gunning has powered through this pandemic with the hopeful optimism, a killer smile, tough workouts and overcoming a lot of personal and professional barriers. As 2020 rolled around, Gunning was on track to qualify for his first Olympic Games, but the pandemic put a stop to all that when Tokyo 2020 was postponed. Faced with pool closures, lockdowns and confronting a whole new reality that has brought up more than a few issues from his past. As a man who is black and openly gay, Gunning’s childhood and teenage years growing up in the UK hasn’t been easy, but he has channeled his own experiences growing up toward helping the next generation of LGBT youth enter a world that is more welcoming.

Just Like Us is a charity that works to “to empower young people to champion LGBT+ equality. We want all young people to know that being LGBT+ is something to be celebrated.” With Gunning putting himself out there as part of the #YoungerMe campaign to advocate for more inclusive education and feature queer role models to share their experiences and struggles growing up.

“Growing up, I really did struggle with my sexuality,” in an interview with GQ. “I feel like as an athlete, you don’t want to show any flaws. You hold all your cards to your chest. I think it’s so important we have role models, who share our stories.”  “When I was younger, if I had a campaign like this? Where I could see people coming out, and speaking openly and honestly? It would have helped me to be my authentic self.”

Despite the 2020 Olympics being moved to 2021 and the pools being closed, Gunning has stayed focus on the things he is able to work on and accomplish. Including dry land training workouts, healthy eating habits as well as focusing on getting proper sleep and working on his own mental health as well. As he continued to share with GQ…

“Overall, I’m a generally happy, positive person, and lots of people do take a lot of comfort from that. But my emotions have been all over the place this year, with the Olympics being cancelled this summer, and going from 25 hours a week in the swimming pool to zero, and not being allowed in the pool. For me, being sporty, I’ve definitely kept up doing home workouts and keeping fit, and ultimately trying to take care of the mind and doing something to really stimulate my mentality.

“I feel like it’s so easy to become a victim and to think that you’re suffering alone, that you’re the only person that’s feeling depressed, anxious, worried, low. But actually, when you connect with more people, and you speak openly and honestly, you realize that we’re all in the same boat, we’re all going through the exact same thing.”

Find more information about Just Like Us at

Join Michael Gunning on the 25th of February as part of a panel on “Being LGBTQ+ in Sports” hosted by myGwork. Find more information and register for the panel here, the event is free and open to all!

Photo Courtesy of Michael Gunning, follow him on Twitter and Instagram