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Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas became one of the first known active gay athletes when he publicly acknowledged his sexuality in 2009.
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Born on July 25, 1974, in Sarn, Wales, Gareth Thomas earned recognition for his impressive rugby skills as a teenager. He starred for the Bridgend, Cardiff and Toulouse clubs, and ended his international career with a record 100 appearances and 40 tries for Wales. In 2009, the rugby great made headlines as one of the first active athletes to publicly confirm his homosexuality.
"If this taboo had been broken before me, I would have known better. I created this whole monster that didn't exist. The fear of rugby being taken away from me, my whole life being taken away, people talking about me behind closed doors ... I created it. It's mad. Now I know I'm not an alien and God isn't punishing me."
Professional athlete Gareth Thomas was born on July 25, 1974, in Sarn, Bridgend, Wales, the third son of Barry and Yvonne Thomas. Growing up in the industrial outpost, he grew to love the rough-and-tumble sport of rugby. Although he followed in his father's footsteps and became a postman after finishing school at age 15, Thomas' physical skills made him a standout for the Pencoed RFC youth team and caught the attention of Welsh rugby authorities.
Thomas began his Rugby Union career with the Bridgend Ravens and joined the Welsh national team, scoring three times in his international debut vs. Japan in May 1995. Such scoring outbursts were common for Thomas, who was difficult to tackle once he got a full head of steam with his 6'3", 225-pound frame.
The combination fullback-wing-centre joined Cardiff RFC for four seasons before returning to Bridgend, where he won the Welsh Premier Division title in 2003. After one season with the Celtic Warriors, Thomas signed with the French club Toulouse for a three-year run.
The pinnacle of Thomas' career came in 2005, when he helped Toulouse win the Heineken Cup and captained Wales to a sweep of Italy, France, England, Scotland and Ireland in the '05 Six Nations Championship. He was also named captain of the British and Irish Lions, a roster of United Kingdom all-stars, and was voted the 2005 BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year.
Thomas retired from international competition in 2007 with a record 100 appearances and 40 tries for Wales, but continued his club career with the recently formed Cardiff Blues. He moved to Rugby League play in 2010 and spent a year with the Crusaders club before announcing his retirement from the sport in October 2011.
Thomas realized he was gay as a teenager and had his first sexual encounter with another man as a 17-year-old. However, he was terrified his urges would lead to ostracization from his teammates and end his rugby career, so he adopted a macho attitude marked by excessive drinking and brawling.
Thomas maintained a relationship with a Bridgend woman named Jemma and got married in 2002, but continued to have affairs with other men. He confessed to her in 2006, after the stress of a third miscarriage and a heated television interview caused him to suffer a mini-stroke. After he and Jemma split, Thomas revealed his secret to a coach and a few supportive teammates.
In October 2009, Thomas became the first active sports star to publically come out of the closet. The announcement was generally well received, and Thomas' earlier fears about his career being derailed by his orientation proved unfounded.
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