Keeping Up With The Alumni: Featuring Michelle Tumolo
In her time on the Syracuse Women's lacrosse team, Michelle Tumolo was arguably one of the most successful athletes to ever graduate from the program.
Coming out of high school, she was the 4th ranked recruit in the nation by Inside Lacrosse. As a freshman, she was named to the 2010-2011 U.S. Lacrosse Women's National team and posted the highest single-season total for points and assists for a freshman in Syracuse lacrosse history.
In her sophomore year, she led the team in scoring with 66 points and was named to the ALL-BIG EAST first team.
In her junior year, she was named the IWLCA attacker of the year, BIG EAST attack player of the year, and she was a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist.
By her senior year, she ranked third on Syracuse's all-time scoring list with 278 points, and second on the career assists list with 137 assists.
Yet, even with all of the accomplishments she racked up during her time at Syracuse University, there is something she has done since then that may even be more commendable: she became the face of the LGBTQ community in the lacrosse world, and subsequently, a role model for so many young athletes to look up to. Here's how it happened.
Back in March, Tumolo was invited on a podcast called "Overtime with Paul Carcaterra." Tumolo explains that on the podcast, Carcaterra really took the time to get to know who Tumolo was off the field, which led them to talk about who Tumolo was outside of her identity as a lacrosse player. They got on the topic of her sexuality, and he brought to her attention that the lacrosse world could really benefit from people like her who were willing to talk about sexuality. Tumolo decided he was right, and immediately turned the thought into action.
A few days after the podcast, Tumulo posted that she would be going live on her Instagram talk about her sexuality. The caption read:
"Carc [the podcast host] inspired me to use my platform to shed more light on this topic [sexuality] and help anyone in need of feeling comfortable with who they are," Tumulo said. She additionally added the hashtags #lgbtq and #betrue.
On her Instagram live, she went on to discuss her sexuality and openly talk about her journey being gay. Joining her on the live was her girlfriend at the time and now fiancé, Lara Bennett. They shared the story of how they met, and in Tumulo's words, "authentically talked about our lives and our stories."
The result of the Instagram live was an inbox filled with people thanking Tumulo for being so honest and raw in such a public setting.
"You would be surprised the amount of kids and people that reached out and thanked me, and also asked me questions that I could answer back," Tumolo said. "I never realized that people needed that so much."
Not only was Tumolo able to share her story, subsequently becoming an LGBTQ icon in the lacrosse world, but through utilizing Instagram as a platform, she also was able to interact and engage with so many of the people who messaged her. This gave her a chance to connect with her followers and get to know them on a more personal level.
"When I was growing up, I always had idols but I didn't really have a gay icon to look up to," Tumolo explained. "I want to be that person for young lacrosse players because...if you have someone to look up to, it [exploring sexuality] is going to feel more natural and normal."
Shortly after the instagram live, Tumolo then released a line of t-shirts called MT35 Pride Shirts. On Tumolo's website, she encourages people live out loud, writing this quote on her site: "wear your gear with pride." The shirts purposefully became available for pre-order on May 29th and then were made available for purchase the same day, just a few days prior to the start of pride month. The t-shirts served as a way for Tumolo to culminate all of the important aspects of her identity into one logo that stood for something special.
The logo, which can be seen on the front of every t-shirt, is a circle with the initials MT in the top left corner, the number 35 in the bottom right corner, and multi-colored stripes (creating a rainbow look) in the middle. The MT, of course, represents her initials. The number 35 represents not only the number Tumolo wore on her jersey at Syracuse, but also, as she said, "the number that has provided m with so many opportunities in the lacrosse world." Lastly, the rainbow stripes, which make the t-shirts stand for something bigger than just the sport.
"I didn't want to make it all about lacrosse...I wanted to make it about who I am as a person as well," Tumolo said. "I wanted someone to have a shirt to be able to feel prideful in."
What made the shirts even more special is that Tumolo gave some of the profits from every shirt to help fund the US Lacrosse LGBTQ+ Inclusion Scholarship, a new scholarship that will be awarded to one student athlete starting next summer. Tumolo explains the emotions she felt when US Lacrosse told her about the initiative.
"I was in tears...that was something new for them [US Lacrosse] and I was just so proud," Tumolo said.
According to the US Lacrosse website, the scholarship "provides financial support and hope to one admirable student-athlete who demonstrates positive sensitivity to and involvement in LGBTQ+ issues." The scholarship is designed to "promote academic excellence and increased visibility of talented LGBTQ+ students in lacrosse.
Tumolo always has tried to promote the message that people should be authentic and true to themselves. She says that for her, living a life of authenticity was made easier by surrounding herself with good people.
"I have to give Syracuse credit, I had the best four years of my life there," she said. "I am so thankful that I could authentically be myself and grow as a lacrosse player."
Tumolo described that when she came out to her teammates, they were always very supportive. Her coaches also supported her every step of the way.
"I live and die by Gary Gait, he is the man, and I want to emulate that [his supportiveness] in my coaching," she said. "I want my players to feel like they can be whoever they want to be."
Another influential person in Tumolo's journey is her fiancé, Lara Bennett. When Tumolo was coaching in Oregon, she met Bennett during an alumni weekend. They fell in love, and this may, she proposed in Germantown, New York.
"I've been lucky enough to meet my soulmate," Tumolo said.
Tumolo is the head coach at Wagner college in Staten Island and she currently plays for the USA Women's Lacrosse team. While she will undoubtedly continue to make strides as a player and a coach, she will also be promoting awareness about the LGBTQ community particularly in athletics. Thank you Michelle Tumolo for changing the lives of so many young athletes and being a a role model for them. The entire lacrosse community commends you for your bravery and willingness to live authentically.