These two queer athletes dove head first into love and have never been happier

Athletes Rhett Hopkins and Sean Gitchell
Athletes Rhett Hopkins and Sean Gitchell

Living in different states can tear a relationship apart, but for college athletes Rhett Hopkins and Sean Gitchell, distance made the heart grow fonder.

The two met over winter break in 2021 when a mutual friend introduced them while they were both home in Annapolis, MD. They spent every day together until they had to return to their respective colleges.

Hopkins is a diver for the University of Georgia, while Gitchell is a swimmer for the University of Mary Washington, so it wasn’t easy for the college sweethearts to see each other. But those 500 miles between them ended up cementing their relationship.

“The emotional connection came after we were physically apart,” Hopkins told Out Sports in an interview with the pair.

“We got to know that we liked each other, just by fessing up to it,” he continued. “We just told each other how we felt about each other.”

Now, two years later, they are still in love.

“I love Rhett,” Gitchell said. “He’s great. He brings me back down to earth. It’s nice. We’re so different. Having distance between us has made us realize how much we mean to each other. We appreciate our time together more.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“People will ask me, ‘What do you love about Sean?’ I don’t know if I can put it into words,” Hopkins said. “He’s so caring. He always tells me how much he loves me. He always makes sure my needs are met. He always makes sure I’m OK.”

To make their long-distance relationship work, the athletes FaceTime every day, no matter how busy they are, but also give each other space.

“A big part to what’s helped us is to communicate the need to be by yourself from time to time,” Hopkins explained.

Good communication has also been vital in strengthening their bond.

“We’ve always been very good about talking it out and airing our feelings and not jumping to conclusions about each other,” Hopkins said. “Even when we’re together, we make sure to do the same thing. We’ve never had a huge fight. We’ve just been able to prevent a few things by communicating our feelings.”Although they’ve found support among their teammates, being queer in sports hasn’t always been easy.

“Being on a collegiate team, every queer person has had to code-switch at some point,” Gitchell said. “I think at least my team has made a decent effort to make me feel included. It’s OK to not be alike to all the other men because it’s a hyper-masculine environment a lot of the time.”

Hopkins, who is bisexual, said that when he came out, the way he was “perceived” by straight men seemed to change.

“Being in a gay relationship the last two years, it’s been eye-opening because I didn’t come out until a couple months into my freshman year,” he explained. “It was definitely eye-opening to see the shift in how the straight men perceived me. None of them were outwardly rude to me. It’s just, something that’s hard to articulate, that shift of how people view you and how I see it.”

Luckily, their fellow athletes have accepted them.

“The people around me have been super good about sticking up for me,” Gitchell said.

“I think a real teammate would accept you no matter what,” Hopkins chimed in. “The people I’ve kept close to me have gone above and beyond to make sure I’m more than comfortable.”