The Bristlecone Project is an awareness campaign of 1in6.org. Photographs and text by David Lisak, Ph.D.
Stephen grew up in a very conservative, Christian family. His dad was a minister who took in kids from destitute families, so Stephen grew up ensconced in a large family. However, Stephen was sexually abused by multiple perpetrators, the first time at age six by his best friend’s father, who threatened to kill Stephen and his family if he told anyone. The church community’s uncaring response when a later perpetrator confessed alienated Stephen from his family and the church.
To survive the abuses and betrayals, Stephen turned to running. “It was running that got me through it. It made me feel light.” Running, and the coaches who believed in him, gave him strength. He became a sprinter, and competed internationally. But an injury forced him off the track, and into an emotional confrontation with his traumas. And in confronting them, he also took on the challenge of his identity. He had known that he was gay since the age of nine, but the abuse he had endured complicated the process of accepting and finding strength in his identity. Today, Stephen continues to find strength and joy in running, and in looking ahead to helping other men to find the strength to face their own challenges and traumas.
For men who have experienced sexual abuse or assault, free and anonymous online support is available 24/7 at 1in6.org/helpline.
Originally posted on 1in6.org