In the lead-up to the Gay Games, we are interviewing a few of the inspiring athletes traveling from the U.S. to Cologne, Germany to compete at the end of this month. Today we're introducing Chris Fajardo, a 27-year-old soccer player from San Francisco. Read our interview with Chris, get to know him, and get in the spirit of the Games!
What is your sport and how long have you been competing?
I play soccer, and have been competing for about 23 years, playing since I was 4.
Where are you from and what do you do for a living?
I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area, raised in San Mateo, and I currently live in San Francisco. I work for a non-profit in Oakland, CA. We help increase sustainability and capacity of after-school sports programs that work with low-income kids.
What kind of family do you come from? How are your family with your being gay?
My parents are still together and I have a younger sister. My dad is from Nicaragua, and my mom is from the San Francisco Bay Area and is Irish. My dad was my first soccer coach and the most influential person for me in terms of helping me develop a passion for the sport; my sister also played in college. When we were kids, my dad would take us to the park and the three of us would play against all the other kids in the neighborhood. My dad would ensure we had fun each time. He knew it was about the experience, not about winning or being the best. I went to college and came out to my sister and mom the summer after junior year. They had known for a long time, they said later, but never talked about it. It took them some time, but they're fine with it now. I told my dad a year later, and he didn't take it as well. It was a very hard conversation for us both. He was very upset, and at the end said, "At least you have your mom." I took that hard and moved to Belize, taking a job I'd been offered there. Space seemed like the best thing for me at the time. While I was gone, my dad and I talked more and rekindled our relationship, and I eventually decided to move back to the States. Three years ago I met my partner, who plays for the same soccer club as I do. My dad has been so welcoming to him. Bobby plays soccer, and I think my dad has seen that he's just like any other guy. In the end, I think my dad was worried about my being hurt, or being always an outsider. In the time I have been with Bobby, he's seen that I can still play the sport that originally connected us and that we are both so passionate about while being a gay man. It's just the pronoun of the person I'm with that has changed.
What role does your sport play in your life outside the Games? Do you compete in other contexts?
Sports impacts every aspect of my life, both personally and professionally. I've learned so much from my own experiences as a player; now I work to help improve the quality of other youths’ experiences. I see the impact sports has had on my life, but also how coaches are impacting other kids, and how coaches can build the best possible experience for those kids. Overall, so many of my morals have come from sports—my mentality, and how I interact with the world. I'm a team person, and I think that came from the relationships I built playing soccer. Some of my best friends are from my high school and college soccer teams. Soccer showed me how to build a family out of doing something I feel passionate about. I am playing with the San Francisco Spikes for the Gay Games and we are the most competitive of the three teams that make up our club. My boyfriend coaches and competes for the second team. It has been so fun to be a part of our soccer club because of that feeling I get at our practices and feeling like you are part of this large movement that is both about the game and about supporting each other. Soccer is one of the only places I've seen that happen. Anyone can pick up a ball. You may not be the best, but anyone can be included. It relieves stress, and it brings great joy in games or in interacting with people on my team.
Have you participated in the Games before?
No. I'm so excited to go, but so nervous. I've been training for God knows how long; but now I'm coaching my team with a friend, and I really think the team will do well. Last year our team competed in DC and didn't quite perform that impressively. This was just as I was coming back from a huge injury and trying so hard to be at my peak. I didn't quite know what we needed to do differently, but I knew I wanted to contribute more, to make a change. So I thought—I can coach the team. This year, we're second in our league. And we've been training ridiculously hard in preparation for Cologne. I believe we will show we're a good team when we arrive in Europe, but also, personally, this experience has been about the culmination of that journey of taking on the challenge to help my team achieve more. To reach for its full potential. I think we're so strong technically and mentally, and our team has such a good rapport. If we can hold that as we step onto the field, I think we can do extremely well. To see everyone step out there and be a part of that will be rewarding in itself. And on top of that, to know I played a key role, and was part of the spirit of that team, I think will only add to that incredible experience. Definitely the whole idea of team goes beyond just our soccer team; to see other teams from the States compete, whatever their sport, will be an awesome experience.
The whole idea of the Games is the balance between competition and community. What are those concepts about, for you?
If you were talk to the other members of my team, they would describe me as a really intense soccer player. On the field I have an intense game face—I want to win. But once the game is over it's all about friendship and being part of something larger. My best friends are from soccer, but not just people on my team—I'm really close friends with many people I've played against. We go hard against each other on the field, and it's frustrating in the moment, but it's part of the game. Part of the sport is being passionate and bringing the best game forward. But there's so much more than just the physical act of soccer in the game. After the game is over, I'm all for grabbing a beer and hanging out. To not communicate and share stories, just because you play for different teams, that seems foolish.
Would you be willing to tell us about an obstacle—personal or physical, or both—that you have had to overcome in order to arrive at this year's Games?
About two years ago we had just finished our soccer season; I went and played with a friend in a friendly tournament. I collided with a goalie. He walked away unscathed; I got a spiral fracture about 7 inches long; a compound fracture at its midpoint, and I also tore all the ligaments in my ankle. The doctor said it looked like I'd been in a severe car accident. When I first got hurt, I was laughing on the side of the field, because what can you do? It hurt like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. I was rushed to the ER, and as the nurse took off my shoe he said "Good God; I don't know if he'll ever play again." When he said that, I felt like my life ended—the thought that I would never be able to play again—it's the worst thing you could ever say to an athlete. I was devastated, especially when all the swelling delayed surgery by two weeks. They put a metal plate and seven screws in my leg, and sutured my ankle together while the ligaments reformed. I couldn't walk for seven months, followed by three months of very intense therapy. But I had a goal in mind to play in the next big tournament. I told the doctor, "This is what I'm going for, and I'm going to do what I have to do to get there."
No one believed me at first, but I made progress faster than they thought. I pushed myself to the limit every chance I had. I wanted not only to get to the tournament, but not to be a leach on the team. I value my team so much—I wanted to bring everything I had to the game. I wanted to come back 100 percent or not at all. I pushed myself so hard that I was in better shape than some of the other players on the team. The best moment was when I scored the second goal in my first game back. That proved to me that all the work to get over this hump in my life was worth it—I wasn't just there, I was a valued member of the team. That experience taught me a lot about dedication and perseverance, and it's the attitude I want to take to the Gay Games.