This Friday will prove to be a historic one at Springfield College, as it will host the first ever Tom Waddell Day.
The day will start at 9 a.m. with an introduction from the Distinguished Professor of Humanics, Marty Dobrow. There will be a panel of Waddell’s classmates, and a history of the Gay Games, one of Waddell’s many accomplishments.
Waddell was many things: a superior athlete in three sports (football, track and field, and gymnastics), a physician, a paratrooper who doubled as a protester for the Vietnam War, and the founder of the Gay Games. Waddell was a go-getter, and an innovator, one who was cast into the shadows at Springfield College until Dobrow’s strong pursuit of equality on campus brought him back to the forefront.
Arguably, the highlight of the day will be the keynote speech, given by Springfield College graduate student, Rob Kearney.
Kearney, much like Waddell, has worn many hats at Springfield. He’s been a student trustee, a member/founder of Maroon 13 (Springfield’s co-ed acapella group), an athletic training student, and world renowned strongman. Kearney also came out as gay on Oct. 20, 2015 via Facebook.
The news was a shock to many, but he, for the most part, was met with nothing but praise. Upon coming out, Kearney was noted as the first openly gay professional strongman… another hat added to the collection. He donned it proudly as he was met with national news attention – something he didn’t expect. Kearney and his boyfriend, Joey Abel, appeared on TMZ, The Huffinton Post, and were mentioned on the Conan O’ Brian Show.
“I’m just Rob Kearney. I don’t feel like I’m big enough of a deal to do seminars, and engagements like this, but I guess I’m being looked at in that light,” said Kearney. “I don’t think I did anything extraordinary… I just said I was gay.”
Kearney has taken all of the attention in stride, and he is looking forward to shedding more light on the topic when he gives his keynote speech.
“Only being apart of the gay community for such a short time, it’s kind of cool [to be the keynote speaker],” said Kearney. “I had struggled for a while about what I was going to say in the speech. This isn’t Rob Kearney Day, this is Tom Waddell Day. We are here to recognize his bravery, and his commitment and his strength that he showed by coming out as gay… and the huge social change he has made.”
Kearney doesn’t fit the stereotype of a gay man. He’s 250 pounds, holds the world record in the log clean and press with a 425-pound lift, and sports a mohawk. While he was met with open arms, he knows that his experience is a rarity.
“This whole issue of Springfield College and gay men came across my mind when I was battling with myself,” said Kearney. “We’re known for being friendly, and welcoming, and open to everything. That’s how it was when I came out. Not a single negative thing was said to me.”
“I think Springfield College in making a great stride at shining light on gay social change, and bringing this back to the forefronts of people’s minds,” said Kearney. “I hope on Friday a lot of students see what’s going on with Tom Waddell Day, embrace it, and start to feel less scared.”