Meet Annabeth Albert, author of “Swimming the Distance” in my M/M Olympic Anthology Going for Gold. Her story about a closeted swimmer who risks his relationship for his sport really tugged at my heart. From the first scene you feel both men’s pain at the situation and you want them to work it out. Find out what inspired Annabeth to write this lovely romantic–and hot!–novella.
I knew as soon as I saw EM’s call for submissions that I had to do this anthology and that I wanted to do a swimming story. I’m a lifelong Olympics nut–I remember watching the Los Angles 1984 Olympics as a kid on my family’s first color TV, and I haven’t missed an Olympics. For me, the thrill is in watching people wrestle (sometimes literally!) with their own limitations to become something greater than they ever dreamed possible. Few things compare to the high of watching an underdog triumph to surprise even seasoned commentators–whether it is running, biking, martial arts, or swimming.
There’s something special about the aquatic events though–and it’s not just all that exposed flesh on glorious display. It’s similar to flying in that swimming is at its base man vs. physics. And way back in the middle ages, possessing the ability to swim was enough to get one tried as a witch. These days, most kids learn the basics, but there’s still a sense of wonder as one learns to defeat the water: how to breathe and float and kick and not drown. And doing it at an Olympic level means daily conquering of man’s innate limitations.
Olympic swimming wasn’t always a man-candy fest–it used to be performed outdoors, in shapeless suits, and at frigid temperatures. Then came the glory days of the speedo suits and smooth bodies. Mark Spitz made swimming sexy in the 1970s and the sport hasn’t looked back since. For me, my love of swimming started with Matt Biondi–long before Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, this 6’7″ American dominated the pool–and his iconic good looks (and teeny tiny suit!) made a permanent impression on my childish fantasies.
Now we have the age of the high-performance suits that cover athletes from their waists to their knees and swimmers like Phelps and Lochte achieve near rockstar status. For me, though, I’m more fascinated with the less popular events: the breaststroke, the backstroke, and the long-distance swimmers.
I chose a long-distance swimmer for my story in part because I wanted to create a character apart from the current crop of headline grabbers, but also because I’m fascinated by the guys who put in hundreds of hours of training for one of swimming’s most grueling, thankless races. These swimmers hang out on the fringes of one the summer Olympic’s marquee sports.
And my hero likes it that way. He likes that his race doesn’t often make prime-time broadcasts and that he can leave the press to the hotshot swimmers who like the limelight. But what happens when an attention-hating hero ends up unexpectedly in the spotlight? Swimming the Distance is my answer:
When denial turns to deception, love may not be enough to keep Kyle and Bodhan’s relationship afloat. Hours before leaving for the Olympics, Kyle Christopher discovers that his long-time boyfriend, an Olympic long distance swimmer, has done an interview where he denied being gay. Despite sharing a home and a dog with Kyle, three-time Olympian Bodhan Petrov isn’t ready to come out publicly. After Bodhan’s lies start stacking up, Kyle’s not sure he can keep waiting quietly in the shadows. When their estrangement takes a toll on Bodhan’s performance, both must decide where their priorities lay once and for all.
Want a sneak peek at Kyle and Bodhan? Here’s an excerpt from their flight to London:
“You still mad at me?” Even bathed in shadows, Kyle could make out the sheepish expression on Bohdan’s face. His hand kept up a steady massage of Kyle’s knee.
“A little.” Each pass of Bohdan’s strong hand chased away more of Kyle’s anger.
“You know, I met you in a gay bar.”
“You did indeed.” Heat spread though Kyle at the memory. Bohdan seemed to have something to prove, but Kyle didn’t know what. Maybe that he wasn’t a complete closet case. Or that Kyle was being unreasonable. “When was the last time we went out?”
Bohdan scowled and removed his hand. “It’s easier when it’s not an Olympic year. The press ignores me.”
Kyle shook his head and went back to staring out the window at nothing. He wasn’t sure exactly when things had shifted. They’d fallen into a relationship with the kind of ease Kyle had never experienced — things went from fucking to cooking dinner together and falling asleep watching Discovery Channel marathons to let-me-clear-space-in-the-dresser-for-your-socks ridiculously, wonderfully quick. But sometime after Bohdan won his first World Championship, after most of his clothes lived at Kyle’s house, after they’d vacationed together, rehabbed the bathroom, and talked about the future in not-so-vague terms, Bohdan’s paranoia had crept in. Winning his second Worlds and the “Olympic Year” push had only made things worse.
“Maybe once this blows over, we can go back to Blue Moon. Make a night of it — get a hotel room downtown and everything. Wanna pretend we’re strangers and pick me up?” Bohdan’s whisper interrupted Kyle’s sulk.
“I seem to remember it working differently last time.” God, that had been one of the biggest rushes of Kyle’s life, coming off the dance floor and colliding into an intense, muscle-bound stranger who seemed to step straight out of his fantasies.
“Yeah. You’re pretty irresistible.” Bohdan returned his hand to Kyle’s thigh, giving him a squeeze. “I saw your red hair from across the bar and then you shook that ass…I was toast.”
The plane bounced again, hitting another turbulent patch. Kyle flinched. Bohdan’s hand moved from Kyle’s thigh to grip his hand, rubbing in gentle circles.
“We’ll be okay.”
Kyle knew Bohdan meant more than just the flight, so he squeezed back. “Yeah.” Or at least, I hope so.
“You should try to rest.” Bohdan tilted his head, concern in his eyes. The only light was the emergency strip along the floor.
Everyone else in first class seemed to be asleep. Kyle flipped up the armrest between their seats. He could almost pretend they were on their couch. Only at home he’d have his head on Bohdan’s chest with his strong arms draped around him. Whereas here he settled for hand holding, knowing it might be Bohdan’s most daring act for the next two weeks.
“That feels nice,” he whispered as Bohdan massaged the fleshy spot between his thumb and forefinger.
“Yeah?” Bohdan scooted closer so their thighs rubbed. He wasn’t quite cuddling, but he’d definitely crossed the straight-guy-personal-space boundary. “I bet I could help you sleep.”
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