The day that Karl Shires celebrated one year with his partner David Levitt was the day the two boarded a plane to Belgium where Shires would be swimming for the gold.
He would end up being part of team South Florida, which brought home 47 medals.
An offshoot of the Gay Games, OUT Games had its third year series of events from July 31 to August 11. While it’s organized by the LGBT community, anyone can compete in its various games. Over 5,000 athletes showed up in Belgium from around 100 countries. The games cross 32 disciplines, from swimming to soccer, and like any other large gathering the athletes find time for parties, expos, theatres and, of course, Antwerp Pride.
Shires, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, joined the Hammerheads Aquatic Swim Team in 2011 after a friend suggested it to him. Shires was no stranger to swimming, having been on the swim team of the Hammond, Indiana high school he’d attended. But the hobby fell to the wayside in college. Looking for a more exciting work out, Shires ended up back where he began — in the water.
Hammerhead Aquatics has been around since 2004, and in its short history won three world championships through International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (first in France, second in Denmark, third in Hawaii). While it’s an LGBT swim team, anyone can join — the initial five members of the group in 2004 have turned into over 100 these days.
Only some of the Hammerheads swim competitively, and Shires is one of the ten or so who do.
“The year I started, some people swam in Iceland,” Shires told SFGN. “This year, when OUT Games came up, I figured it was a great opportunity.”
Swimmers have to pay their own way to the events.
“I didn’t really know what Belgium was all about, so I went a few days ahead. Beautiful cities, and very openly gay people, especially in Brussels,” Shires said. Two days later, he took a train to Antwerp. “I didn’t think I was going to get any medals, to be honest.”
But he did. Individually, he won a silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke and a bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke.
“I wasn’t the only that did well,” Shires said. “We all did exceptionally well.”
During the relays, a new team called South Florida was created. Nine of the swimmers from South Florida comprised it — Hammerheads and others (you don’t have to belong to a club to compete at the OUT Games). This team competed in several relays. One of them was a 50-meter medley (out of four swimmers, each swims differently), in which South Florida won a gold medal. Two other relays resulted in silver and bronze medals.
“The OUT Games is more than just swimming. There were people from all over the world ,” Shires said. “It was great to meet people from other countries.”