Back To Blog

Out and proud, this national champ thrives on honesty

By James Jung


Back in 2010, Brendan Housler found himself stuck between two lives. There was Housler the cyclist, a talented 28-year-old rider who’d upgraded from a Cat 5 to a Cat 1 in less than two seasons, and Housler the partier. On weekends, when he wasn’t smashing local crits or road-tripping to far-flung stage races, he could be found in his hometown of Rochester, New York, out-drinking 50 to 100 of his best friends during ragers that swelled to rave-like proportions. That was the official story, at any rate. The one his two disparate friend groups might have laughed about had Housler’s polarized worlds ever collided.

But there was a third life in play as well, one that Housler wasn’t comfortable sharing with any of his friends. Despite outward appearances — the backward baseball caps, the streetwear sneakers, the alpha male love of sports, the deep-throated “yeah, baby!” swagger (think Dick Vitale, not Austin Powers), all the trappings of a traditional cis white male, or at least those of a decade ago, a time that now feels curiously antiquated considering how far we’ve come — Housler was gay. After his parties wrapped, he’d feign fatigue, tell friends he was headed to bed, then meet local men online and later that same night in person (anywhere except for Rochester’s gay bars, which he avoided for fear that a straight friend might spot him). For a while this juggling act felt fun, a game that Housler —whose level of LFG energy can best be described as off the charts — seemingly had under control.

Until then, of course, he didn’t.

Brendan Housler road national championships
Brendan Housler won Masters Road National Championships in 2021. Photo: Craig Huffman       

"I broke down," he tells me over Zoom. Though our interaction is limited to a laptop screen, I still sense his towering height (6-foot-5, if we’re keeping score, and Housler always keeps score). Everything about the 39-year-old Ryan Reynolds lookalike is expansive. The big smile. The lanky arm movements. The perpetually upbeat demeanor, irrepressibly optimistic, even now as he dwells on those darker days: the stress of secrecy, the tiptoeing around, the numerous identities, all of which became too much to handle.

“Because I don’t fit the stereotype, some dudes couldn’t wrap their heads around it."

At 32, Housler came out in person to his three older sisters, then his parents (doting Roman Catholics who embraced their son but needed time to process), and finally his three best friends. For the rest of his social circles, Instagram would have to do. While on vacation in Spain, Housler posted a selfie, along with a few hundred words marked by that raw vulnerability the platform is purportedly designed for yet which so few of us share. To Housler’s relief the response was an overwhelmingly positive one. And yet despite all the DMs of love and support he also encountered disbelief especially from baffled male friends who’d always assumed he was straight.  

“Because I don’t fit the stereotype, some dudes couldn’t wrap their heads around it,” he tells me with a big laugh. “I had a friend whom I told I was gay, and he was like, ‘You’re kidding me, right? You CANNOT be gay. The wheels were grinding. You could see he was like, ‘I can’t compute this.’”

Growing up during the ‘80s and ‘90s in suburban Rochester, Housler didn’t have any gay role models.

“I had no gay friends. My family didn’t know any gay people. I had no access to a real gay human, which sounds crazy to say…” he admits now. Instead, the media gave him one version, that of the effeminate, overly sexualized stereotype. It was often steeped in parody and sometimes paranoia. A young Housler found this not only scary, but also light years different from his own experience. 

“It was Pedro from ‘The Real World.’ So, to a kid the message was, ‘Hey, if you’re gay and you have sex with someone of the same sex, you’re gonna get AIDS and die.’ And I was like, ‘Hmmm, nah I’m good with that. That’s not me.’ And, you know, the super effeminate thing, I’m like, ‘That doesn’t seem like me either.’ There was no Michael Sam from the Rams being like, ‘Yo, what’s up everyone, I’m gay and I’m crushing people on the football field.’”

"To a kid the message was, ‘Hey, if you’re gay and you have sex with someone of the same sex, you’re gonna get AIDS and die.’ And I was like, ‘Hmmm, nah I’m good with that. That’s not me.’"

A gay athlete like Sam, the first openly gay NFL player, was the type of role model that Housler needed. Hyper-competitive by nature, he religiously played baseball, basketball, and volleyball, a sport in which he won a high school state-championship. By college, partying replaced those activities, but he tackled it with the same gusto and palled around with a crew of straight male friends typical of that ilk and era, one in which a certain homophobic slur was so woven into the vernacular that Housler sometimes heard it coming out of his own mouth.

“I didn’t say it to fit in, but because it just became part of your vocabulary,” Housler tells me. He shakes his head over the cognitive dissonance. “I’d think to myself: ‘Dude, that’s so messed up that I’m saying that.’”

Brendan Housler volleyball
Growing up, Housler fit in with the sports crowd, but only to a point. Photo courtesy Brendan Housler

By the time Housler graduated college, he wondered how long he’d be closeted. He’d moved back to Rochester, followed in his father’s footsteps in the medical device sales business, and continued drinking like a twenty-something. Housler insists it was a happy time, aside from, “This thing I didn’t want to tell anybody.” Still, his secret made him feel sad at friends’ weddings, thinking he’d never experience that same happiness. Other times, he told himself that maybe he’d just, “Get married and ignore this, and figure it out when I’m 50.”

A more immediate concern was his weight. At 26, Housler’s jogging routine hadn’t stopped him from gaining 30 pounds since his volleyball heyday. One night over a beer and a plate of chicken wings, he complained about the excess flab to a friend, and that friend told him to buy a bike and to show up to Rochester’s infamous Tuesday night training race series. Housler arrived in a pair of basketball shorts. He felt like a dork amid some 100 lycra-clad riders. He didn’t like the anxiety of riding in a pack or the deflation of getting dropped. But that same friend convinced him to keep showing up — an idea that soon morphed into Housler’s mantra. A few weeks later, he found himself attacking the Cat 5 field on the finishing climb of the New York State Road Race Championships, and he wound up holding on for second place.

“I was hooked, man,” he tells me. “I was like: This is all I’m doing.”  

Housler changed his diet, decreased his drinking, and embedded himself deep within the local cycling community. Bike racing occupied most spring and summer weekends, while midweek hours after work involved a painful itinerary of intervals to bolster a burgeoning diesel engine that would see him dominate breakaways and time trials for the next decade, collecting 10 state championship titles in three different states.

Brendan Housler riding bike
Bikes changed Housler's life in more ways than one. Photo: @WillTucker

He remained closeted though. Housler was secretly dating men, often giving them elaborate cover stories should they ever bump into one of his friends together. That was one facet of his identity he preferred to hide.

“Everything was clicking,” he remembers. “I was growing a medical device business, making money, winning bike races, having a good time. I wasn’t sure what my customers would think [if he’d come out]. Wasn’t sure what my friends would think. I was like, ‘I’m not gonna rock this boat.’”

Man, these dudes are all 100 with me, and I'm hiding such a huge part of myself. I've always hated lying."

The summer Housler finally did come out was a heady one. Though he kept cycling his top priority, he’d sometimes show up at a race half-hungover. Or he’d simply be exhausted from the deep, late-night conversations he was having with a group of close friends.

“Drake has this line: ‘All I ever ask is 100,’” Housler tells me. “I kept thinking: Man, these dudes are all 100 with me, and I'm hiding such a huge part of myself. I've always hated lying. It was actually my mom's number one rule: “No lies.” You could mess up big time, but if you lied, shit got real very quickly. So, I kept thinking: 100, 100, 100. It ate at me. Finally, I said to myself, “I just gotta do this and see where things fall.”

Housler decided to be 100 with three of those friends.  He dropped the news on the trio during a guys-weekend in Nashville, Tennessee, where one of them, Patrick Walle, now lived. Walle was a fellow bike racer, as well as one of the few cyclists Housler coached on the side. Over the course of those two days in Tennessee, the friends drank beer, ate barbecue, hit swimming holes, all while Housler floated along with an untroubled buoyancy he hadn’t felt in years.

“It clicked,” Walle tells me over the phone. Though he admits that prior to that weekend he never had any suspicions over why his fun, successful, good-looking buddy never had a girlfriend.  “I just always thought: Brendan doesn’t have enough time for women because he’s so focused on being Brendan.”

Brendan Housler bike racing
Cycling has become a career path for Housler as he built his own coaching business. Photo: Susan Weinke

One of the things Housler realized in the aftermath of coming out was that he no longer wanted to live in Rochester. The frigid winters of Western New York had finally gotten to him, and so, heeding the advice of his father, who couldn’t understand why his son would stay put in a city with only four nice months a year to ride, Housler picked up sticks. Perhaps wanting to recapture some of that magic of his first weekend as an openly gay man, he moved to Nashville, and not long after that, he met Chris Cooley, a silver-haired dentist 25 years his senior. Though intergenerational relationships are common in the gay community, Housler wasn’t eager to explain it to straight friends, and so he’d resigned himself to the idea of being out while somehow remaining hidden. That is until he ran into Walle one night after dinner with Cooley. Housler’s immediate instinct was to fabricate a cover story. Instead, he decided to let things ride, to surrender himself to the serendipity of the moment.

“I had to re-come out again,” Housler says with a big laugh, and in it, I can hear his sense of relief; his gratitude to at last be at ease with himself in this world.

The final piece to the puzzle that is Housler fell into place in 2019. It was January, and he was walking out of a hospital in Arkansas, fresh off a client argument regarding biological products he’d sold. 

“I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” he tells me, the rare note of dismay creeping into his voice. “F—k this.” 

He had an inkling of what to do next. A year prior, he’d posted a video on YouTube analyzing a power profile, and soon, a guy from Atlanta got in touch asking to be coached. After years of working with only a handful of athletes as a side-hustle, Housler dove into coaching full-time. He quit selling medical equipment, called up Walle, and together they launched EVOQ, a boutique coaching brand and cycling community. One of the key tenets to his new company was free content. He published blogs and vlogs, produced podcasts, churned out Instagram posts, spent hours on the TrainerRoad forum answering questions (how to build FTP? increase plasma volume? glycogen storage?), and offered a free power file analysis to anyone who asked. Six months later, EVOQ’s website had garnered a quarter-million unique visits. Today, Housler and his four other coaches have 100 athletes on their roster, ranging from doctors gearing up for their first Gran Fondo to talented amateurs eager to join the pro ranks.

Walle ties his friend’s talent as a coach to that of his coming-out journey as a gay man. “I think coming out late and starting cycling late have a huge impact on his motivation,” he says, noting that a lot of avid racers hit a plateau and burn out. 

The name EVOQ means, “to evoke your best self,” and it’s an idea Housler applies to all his coach-client relationships, an idea that is rooted in his own identity, one of having always felt different. Rather than hand his athletes cookie-cutter training plans, he seeks to spot their differences, to see what makes them unique, then build from there. It’s these differences (as well as commonalities) that unite his athletes, the majority of whom actively engage on EVOQ’s 80-member strong WhatsApp thread. 

“I think you only can become your best self by learning from other people,” Housler says. “I want people to feel like they belong to something beyond their family, their race team, their job. I love being on that journey together.”

Cooley and Housler
Cooley (L) and Housler (R) are now happily married. Photo courtesy Brendan Housler

As for Housler’s own journey, he and Cooley got married in May of 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, they couldn’t throw the 250-person wedding they’d planned. Housler had been right all along: he would never get that celebration he’d watched so many straight friends enjoy. And yet now that didn’t seem to matter, not with so much life ahead of him. Soon after, he and Cooley bought a farmhouse in the hills of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. He quit drinking, kept training, and by July 2021, he was crowned Master’s National Gran Fondo Champion, a title he took while riding alongside Walle. A month later in New Mexico, with Cooley in the feed zone, handing out bottles and ice-stuffed stockings, Housler went one better by sprinting to his second Master’s National Road Race title. An hour later, he stood atop the podium, clad in the stars and stripes jersey. It’s a photo he proudly shared on Instagram, along with the hashtag #gaycyclist — something he includes with nearly everything he posts.

“That’s why I think it’s important to be open because there are people still out there in 2021 thinking, ‘I wish I could be out. I just wish I knew what that life was like.’”

“I have friends who make comments like, ‘Dude, no one cares that you’re gay.’” Housler smiles, knowing that these words — however poorly phrased — aren’t meant to be disparaging. He’s quick, however, to make the point that acknowledging his sexuality matters. “And I’m like, ‘Well actually I do. It’s a huge part of my identity.’”

There’s an altruistic motivator in play, too. As a teenager and young adult, Housler never got the gay mentor he needed, one who might have broken the mold for him by demonstrating that there are countless ways in which one can carve out a gay identity. And while several high-profile male athletes have come out in recent years, none have done so in cycling’s World Tour. It’s a statistic that doesn’t add up, as Cycling Weekly pointed out, considering the percentage of the world’s population who are gay. This “conspicuous absence” suggests that a stigma of the gay male athlete persists. It’s a stigma that he hopes to change, knowing that his life can resonate with anyone who might not see the pathway to their own self-acceptance.

“That’s why I think it’s important to be open because there are people still out there in 2021 thinking, ‘I wish I could be out. I just wish I knew what that life was like.’”

Here’s what one version of that life looks like: Brendan Housler standing atop the podium as national champ, all his different selves coalescing into his 6-foot-5 frame, skinny, smiling, arms raised in triumph, a gay man looking directly into the camera, unafraid to fully be himself.

Newsletter Sign Up