(WB) A Swiss wrestler has officially come out of the closet, making him the nation’s first openly gay professional athlete.

Curdin Orlik, who is a “swing” wrestling champion, revealed his sexuality to the Swiss publication The Magazine, according to OutSports.

The 27-year-old Orlik told interviewers, “I’d rather be free than fearful,” going on to add, “I am like that. I can’t help it. That’s how I was born.”

Swing wrestling, though unknown in most of the world, is a very popular Swiss sport with origins in a folk tradition of wrestlers competing against each other within a circle of sawdust. The contestants dress up to compete, rather than stripping down to a singlet. Champions in the sport become celebrities, leading to lucrative product endorsement deals – which is one reason, according to Orlik, he had previously remained in the closet.

However, homophobic comments experienced throughout his life also played a part.

“I heard things on the school building square [like] ‘you gay pig,’ ‘you faggot,’” he told reporters. “Or in soccer, ‘such a gay pass!’ Even when swinging [wrestling]. Sure, nobody really meant that, but if you’re like that yourself, you think, ‘Shit, that’s not a good thing.’ I thought: I don’t want to be gay.” 

“But it’s me,” he declared. “Now it’s out.”

Switzerland passed a law in 2018 making homophobia and transphobia illegal, with penalties including up to three years in prison.

The young athlete also told The Magazine he had sought relationships with men through dating apps while he had been closeted, but that it was too difficult. He married a girlfriend, and the couple have a 2-year-old son together, but they have now separated – though Orlik is still part of his son’s life.

He told reporters, “For far too long I have pushed out who I really am. I am not someone who kisses in front of people, but I want to lie down with a man and be able to touch him. I always knew that I was gay, for sure since I was 12.”

After the interview was published, fans on social media showed overwhelming support for Orlik, who responded on Instagram by posting:

“Wow, I am overwhelmed by the large number of positive reactions I’ve gotten across all the various channels With really awesome Feedback, I’m just starting out in a new, open and free period of life. Many thanks – from the very heart A special thanks goes to my parents and everyone else who supported me in my family.”

Since the article posted this weekend, Orlik has received overwhelming encouragement and support on social media. He thanked his supporters on Facebook, saying, “Wow, I am overwhelmed by the large number of positive reactions that you have sent me through a variety of channels. With your wonderful feedback, I’m now starting a new, open and free period of life.”

Welcome to the family, Curdin.