Aiming to represent the United States in the 2018 Olympics, figure skater Adam Rippon says that coming-out as gay helped him compete as an athlete.

The 27-year-old says that like many young people, at first denied to himself that he was gay. That changed when he first kissed another man.

“For as many years as I was like, ‘No, I’m not gay.’ The first time I kissed a boy, I’m like, ‘I definitely am gay,'” Rippon explains.

Speaking with TeamUSA.org for Pride month Rippon says, “Being gay isn’t what defines me, but it’s a big part of who I am and I like to talk about my coming out because that’s when I started to own who I was as a person.”

“That’s what’s important, not the being gay part but at some point … gay or straight … you need to own who you are.”

“You can’t be afraid of who you are or else you’re afraid of your own potential, and if you don’t own who you are then you can’t grow.”

Adam RipponAfter publicly coming-out in a skating magazine interview in October 2015, Rippon says that he received a huge amount of support for speaking about his sexuality, which reassured him that he had done the right thing, crediting the event with helping him to win his gold medal at the 2016 US Championships.

“When I came out was when I was able to breathe. When everyone knew, I didn’t feel like I was hiding anything. I didn’t feel like I was putting on a show. I was being me and it was easy. It was a lot easier to be me than to be who I thought I was supposed to be.”

“I went out and I felt like I was performing as myself and not a character.”

“That’s really what helped push me to win my first national title.”