GG9 — what’s an athlete to do?

Gay Games 9 in Cleveland is approaching quickly. If you haven’t registered yet, what are you waiting for?

This is a great opportunity to comingle with fellow athletes from around the world, learn about other cultures, share beliefs and issues and show the world (and the sometimes-red/sometimes-blue state of Ohio) that we are unified. And of course have an immense amount of fun.

On the other side, let’s be frank: Cleveland is just not a top-10 destination for LGBTs on the East Coast. Part of it might be reputation. Years ago, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. (True fact. Look it up.) Other things Cleveland is known for are Drew Carey, the Cleveland Indians and, well, that’s about all I can come up with.

Yes, they have that museum. There may still be some ill will with locals who thought Philly was the rightful home for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it should get a mention. And they do have an array of art institutions and a lakefront.

The answer to this conundrum lies somewhere between utopia and mundane.

First, when are you going to get another chance to compete with world-class athletes in a quadrennial event being held practically in your backyard? The next possibility is 2022, and that’s only if a city in the United States gets the nod again — and the chances it will be closer are also slim.

I hear “Paris will be more fun in 2018.” Maybe so, but that’s going to cost twice as much, guaranteed. Just the airfare for one person versus two tanks of gas for two, three or four people to share is a big deal. And no one knows what life has in store for them the next four years. Think about that.

Second, looking beyond the competitions, it’s a chance to hear about others’ struggles for rights and how our challenges and victories aren’t limited to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the United States or even first-world nations. Think getting fired in Pennsylvania is horrible? Talk to someone who fears for his life every day. Seriously, how well do you think you know how conditions are in 100-plus countries?

The Festival Village is a great place for doing all those things and many more, like seeing Scissor Sisters. Lance Bass Detox, for starters. This is the epicenter of all things recreational that you can do in public.

“Festival Village is the hub and heart of activities for all Gay Games participants, their friends and families, spectators and members of the general public,” says Brian Thornton, co-chair of the Festival Village committee. “It’s where community and connections will be formed, and where thousands of people will gather to meet up with friends, to meet new people, to celebrate their personal victories, to be entertained, to eat and drink and to otherwise relax and enjoy Cleveland and Akron hospitality.”

Third, have some fun. If GG9 is the only reason you think you’ll ever have to go to Cleveland, then why not make the most of it? Yes, the games are incentive, but find your own additional incentives. Make the venture into an adventure. There aren’t competitions and scheduled events 24/7 (though it seems like they’re getting close to that). You can web search for anything that interests you and include that in your trip.

Might I add that travel isn’t always just the destination. Think about including a side trip to Jonestown, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, Punxsutawney, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton or the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (since it’s not an LGBT mecca either).

As for me, well, I would like to attend, participate, commiserate, compete in darts, check out a museum or two, go to the Festival Village, take in an LGBT concert, take a boat cruise on Lake Erie and generally enjoy being away for a week.

Maybe I would even go see the river that once burned. You never know. It’s important to get out and play.

Countdown to Gay Games 9: 56 days. Let everyone know when you’re playing, what you’re playing and what team you play for; email [email protected].