Confidence is critical for a gymnast’s success: every misstep during a routine is costly. Most meets are decided by less than half of a point.
Savannah Schoenherr, a gymnast for Florida, said she struggled with confidence and accepting who she is as a person for most of her life.
On Thursday, Schoenherr told the world she’s gay. In a video posted to the Gators gymnastics Twitter account, she said she has struggled in the past to accept herself and has even tried to deny her sexuality. In Columbus, Georgia, where she was raised, there was a negative stigma attached to people in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I kind of told myself, I was like, I can't be this way,” she told The Alligator. “The biggest thing for me was just accepting it myself and coming to the realization of who I was and who I was meant to love.”
During her freshman year of high school, Schoenherr said she started to question her sexuality.
“I just felt like I was attracted to girls, and that I wanted to be more than friends with them,” she said.
She tried to push those thoughts away, she said. She didn’t want to be gay.
Shortly after arriving in Gainesville for her freshman year, Schoenherr reached out to a friend who came out publicly during Schoenherr’s sophomore year of high school. She was the first person Schoenherr came out to.
Schoenherr asked her friend about the feelings she experienced—the desire to be more than friends with girls. Most of all, Schoenherr wanted to know how someone knows if they’re gay.
“She was like, ‘Well, if you're questioning this much, then there's probably a chance that you do have those types of feelings,” Schoenherr said. “And it's okay to have this type of feelings. There's nothing wrong with you. Because of that, you're born the way you are for a reason.’”
After their conversation, Schoenherr started to embrace her identity. Those feelings had been there for years, she said. There was no pushing them away anymore.
Learning to love and accept herself was the hardest part of her journey, she said.
The next people she told were her best friends on the gymnastics team: Halley Taylor and Trinity Thomas. They were supportive, she said, and told her that nothing would change their friendship.
Taylor is a rising junior, like Schoenherr, and said they have practically become sisters since arriving on campus. She remembers the day Schoenherr came out to her during their freshman year.
“I was proud of her that she came out and was totally comfortable,” Taylor said. “First of all, I was really honored that she said that one of the first people she told was me, because we were really close.”
However, Schoenherr still hadn’t revealed who she was to her family. Too many things stood in her way: fear of making things awkward, of having her family look at her differently.
“When you're just sitting, and there's an elephant in the room,” she said. “I didn't want that to be me.”
Still, she said the truth would come out at some point. She had to tell them.
Eventually, she did. After telling each of her family members individually, she said she felt like a huge weight was lifted off her shoulders. The feeling she got after telling them was greater than the fear of not saying anything at all.
“They just want what's best for me in my life,” she said in the video. “As long as I'm happy, they're happy.”
Since then, Schoenherr has continued to grow, Taylor said.
“She is just so much more self-confident,” she said. “She's a lot more outspoken, she's ready to take on challenges head-on. And I think that is also a maturity thing, but also just her being more confident in herself.”
Schoenherr’s newfound confidence has made a difference in the gym, too, she added.
“Freshman year she might have been a little more timid than she is now,” Taylor said. “And, now she’s confident. She’s like, ‘Yeah, I got this,’ and I think she's ready to take on any challenge that anyone throws at her.”
Coach Jenny Rowland said she has noticed a more confident Schoenherr as well.
“Seeing Sav so confident and happy makes my heart happy,” Rowland wrote in an email to The Alligator. “Above all else, we strive to build in our Gators the importance of being yourself and not letting anyone change that or take away from who you are. I am thankful she felt comfortable in sharing her journey to all-knowing her Gator family will be in full support beside her.”
Schoenherr also encourages others who are questioning their sexuality or afraid to come out to listen to their heart.
“You're made the way that you are for a reason, and society shouldn't have a control over who you are meant to be,” she said. “When you can truly be happy with who you are, and not trying to please everybody else and try to make everyone else happy, that's when you can be your true self and express yourself to the fullest.”