Being me was my superpower: Gay triathlon champion Siri Lindley on owning her story

Siri Lindley rising a horse on the cover of her new book
Photo: Book Cover, Post Hill Press

The subtitle of Siri Lindley’s stirring new book, Finding a Way, is fitting: “Taking the Impossible and Making it Possible.”

Lindley comes across as a kind of superhuman — one of those insatiable optimists who’s always looking for opportunity in hardship. The cancer survivor, horse rescuer, and two-time world champion triathlete speaks with such vivacity that introverts may initially shrink away. But after some time, they’ll realize that Lindley is, indeed, very much human. And she does have our best interests at heart.

I say “our” because Lindley’s focused on telling stories that are profoundly human. You don’t have to love triathlons or horses to garner something from her latest book. In fact, you don’t even have to be queer (although it doesn’t hurt). 

Whether relaying how she won twelve International Triathlon Union World Cup races or helped found a national advocacy group to save horses from slaughter, she manages to dig into the driving emotions behind these successes – as well as the failures that came before them. She waxes on about dreaming of competing in triathlons even when she couldn’t swim; but what she really communicates is how to change the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. 

This is her greatest gift: mining for a universal truth in every situation.

Lindley spoke with LGBTQ Nation from her home in Santa Ynez, California to discuss her book and her motivations.

LGBTQ NATION: In this book, you center your queerness — particularly coming out as gay to your father and that journey toward acceptance. Why did you choose to do that?

Siri Lindley: Because it’s a huge part of my story. And it’s funny because obviously, in the beginning, when my dad cut me out of his life, that was devastating, right? But what I realized 20 years later is that that whole experience is what made me who I am today. I think the key thing that I want to share about that instance is in that moment of his rejection, the story he was telling me was that because I was gay, I was worthless. I wasn’t lovable. I didn’t belong in our family, I’d never be happy, I’d never be successful. But I couldn’t afford to live that story. 

So I had to make a decision at that moment: pretend to be something I’m not for the rest of my life or choose me. I had to say to myself that me being me is where I will be able to tap into my full potential in this lifetime. I will be able to find the magic that I so dream of finding. 

I had to become that person that would know that being me was my superpower, that being me was the only way. What would she do? What would she believe? What would she know? What actions would she take? 

That’s when I got into triathlon, which was really a journey to prove to myself that even as a gay woman, I could achieve something spectacular, that I could inspire others, and that I can make a difference in the world. 

In my book, I talk about abandoning myself. Here I am, a professional athlete, and I get, like, this dream sponsorship. But it requires that I pretend that I’m straight, get a boyfriend, and grow my hair long. Now, yeah, I made that decision. And suddenly, I had the freedom to just train, and I became a world champion. But that was the worst feeling in the world, to abandon myself. And after that, the rest of my life became about, “I will never abandon myself again. I will never abandon any part of who I am.”

I feel like as LGBTQ people, so often we’re in positions where we have to make a decision. Do we choose ourselves? Or do we choose to fit in a certain box and make other people comfortable? And the answer is always to choose you because the world needs you. Because that’s exactly who you were meant to be. That’s where your uniqueness is. That’s where your magic is, that’s where your light is. And I feel like we all have a responsibility in this lifetime to bring all of who we are into the world. 

In my case, my dad now comes to events with me and my wife. And we’ll go out to dinner, and he’s like, this is the best marriage I’ve ever seen! He’s like our biggest advocate. 

LGBTQ NATION: This book is unique in that it fuses memoir with self-help. You even have exercises for readers to do to determine their values and the stories they tell themselves, and yet it’s never not a deeply personal story. What led you to take this narrative route?

SL: I believe that our own vulnerability gives hope to others. 

Going back to college, I remember feeling so alone in my fear, my anxiety, and my OCD. I felt like I was the only person on the planet that felt this way. Nobody ever spoke about these things then. Never. 

But once I started really sharing my story, it was because I wanted to let everyone else out there that feels these things know that they’re not alone. Because in that sense of, “I’m not alone,” there’s an empowerment. You belong. 

So all through my speaking, I get up there to say, “You are not alone. I’ve been there. But look, this is what we do. And this is how we get to the other side of it.” And it becomes this thing that we’re in together. And that’s what I wanted this book to feel like. It’s like, “I’m here, I’m going to show you how I did it. And I’ve got your hand.” There are parts where I invite you to do a deep dive into your own beliefs, your own thoughts, your own values, so that you can use my story, as an example, but you can do it your way. 

And even, you know, when I got AML [acute myeloid leukemia], everyone around me is telling me, “It’s the end.” But I wasn’t willing to live that story. And so I had to give this an empowering meaning like, what else could this mean? Why else might I be going through this?

And I thought maybe this is happening because in finding my way through it and finding a way to overcome it, I will become that person that can truly help others, that can truly have the impact that I dream of having not just for humans, but for animals too. I’m going to look for the lessons, for the gifts, for what I learned, for how I change or have to change in this process. And all of that is going to give me a different perspective that will help me deliver the help that I want for others. 

You need to be the first responder to your own suffering, you need to actively say, “I’m going to participate in my own rescue here.” 

Finding this empowering meaning was part of that.

LGBTQ NATION: When people see you going to an Ivy League school, going to Switzerland and Australia to train, doing all of these big things, they feel they don’t have access to these opportunities. How can I live my truest life if I don’t have these privileges? 

SL: Well, granted, when I was in college, my mom was married to a very wealthy guy. So yeah, that was privilege, I admit. But after that, this guy divorced my mom and gave her nothing. So then it was on me. Find a way, right? So when I started racing, I was working 70 hours a week at the YMCA. And I would train at 4AM until I had to go to work at 7, I trained during my lunch hour 12-1, I trained from 5-8. After work, have dinner, go to bed, do it all over again every single day. 

Doing fundraisers also helped. Like, “Help me get to my first world championship in New Zealand.” 

At this time, I’m 23 years old. I don’t even know how to swim, and I’m devoting my entire life to this goal of becoming the best. Like, what a joke. I went to an Ivy League university. What a joke that this is what I’ve chosen to do. And because nobody was willing to say, “Let me support you because you’ve got such a bright future,” on the road to success, you have to say yes. And that’s the scary part. 

I was making sandwiches in a deli and teaching spin classes at this health club. I didn’t have enough money for healthy food, like, you know, the stuff that an athlete trying to be a successful athlete should be eating. 

Every night I would go into the refrigerator and put bagels and cream cheese in my bag. I was basically stealing. After about three months of this, I got called up to the owner of the gym. She sat me down, and she showed me the videos of me in the refrigerator shoving bagels and cream cheese in my backpack. I just started bawling my eyes out. I felt such shame. 

She turned to me and she said, “Siri, you may think that I’m going to call the police or report you. I’m not going to do that. But what I am going to say is you need to ask for help. Because if you don’t ask for help, you’re going to do things that make you feel the way you’re feeling right now.” She said, “You’d be surprised if you ask for help people will want to help you.” 

It’s the stories we tell around having resources or not. If we say I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the privilege, guess what? You have an excuse as to why you don’t even try. What you have to do is tell yourself a different story. I may not have money, I may not have the resources or the support. But if I show up everyday and lean in and do the work, I’m gonna get one step closer to having those things in the future. 

I know that’s a little bit of tough love. I get that, you know, I get that. But it’s really, you know, the temporary discomfort of living a story that doesn’t feel true to you is way less painful than living a story that’s not going to take you anywhere you want to go.


Finding a Way: Taking the Impossible and Making it Possible, is available June 20, 2023 from Post Hill Press. You can find Siri Lindley on Twitter and Instagram.

*Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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