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William Yepes: swimming to citizenship

Swimmer William Yepes

His passion is swimming. Yet William Yepes had reason to be afraid of his first harbor Swim for Life in 2010. Not only was open water swimming a challenge, but he was afraid his asthma would kick in, which it did. He hailed a kayaker over and was ready to call it quits when he asked how far was the finish line. Only 300 yards away, he was told. “I can do that!” he proclaimed as the asthma attack disappeared and off he went. “It’s surprising how strength comes from unknown places”, he recalled.

He cried when he first visited Provincetown. How could this be? A place where it felt safe to be who you are? Born in Colombia with one parent Catholic and the other Evangelical, William was used to living in a fractured world, where hiding his sexual identity was survival. When he had the good fortune to attend a summer program at Harvard, friends kept encouraging him to visit the little fishing village on Cape Cod.

A couple days before his return to Colombia he took the ferry to town and arrived during Family Week. The “river of gay crowds and families” stunned him. He cried all the way on his bike to Race Point Beach, where ironically, he felt comforted by more familiar families. He went back home to Colombia with a taste of what was possible.

William then took a teaching job at a private religious school in rural Florida but lost his green card after the director suspected he was gay. He decided to stay in the US and followed his instincts, discovering the Ft Lauderdale LGBTQ swim team. He found a new home.

He soon returned to friends in Boston and joined the LANES Swim team, which included participation in the annual Swim for Life. One year he managed to swim the 1.4-mile distance doing only the butterfly.

“There is always a time out in the water where you are alone and afraid. The only way I can conquer my fears is knowing there is a shore on the other side, and people waiting to receive me. This is what Provincetown is about.”

The legalization of same sex marriage allowed William and his partner to marry in 2013, and in June he became a US citizen. And adding to that, he had the surprising fortune to bring his eighth-grade class to meet US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At an emotional meeting he had that opportunity to thank her for the important decisions she helped craft, particularly same sex marriage. He asked her what she wanted his students to take away from this meeting, she spoke, “We need to become activist and speak for the causes that are close to our hearts.” He and his students were all in tears.

Join William September 9 at the 30th Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla: www.swim4life.org

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