Meet trans athletes who work hard, do their best and rarely win – Outsports

Posted: December 4, 2019 at 5:46 pm


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This article is the latest in a series exploring the conversation about the inclusion of transgender athletes in womens sports. You can find the series here.

I race a lot of bikes and I suck.

Tara Seplavy is very matter-of-fact about it. No sugar-coating, no thoughts of Olympic grandeur. Having raced bikes for many years, shes been around the sport long enough to know exactly where she stands, and its generally not on a medal podium.

Its not that she hasnt tried to break out in the sport. Since transitioning genders shes found renewed dedication to fitness, competition and the community that surrounds bike racing.

I had a coach for the last couple of years, and we tried really hard, Seplavy said from her home on Long Island. I bust my ass. Im training many hours a week, I try to eat reasonably well and do the things athletes do. Ive just never been a super gifted athlete in my life.

I hit the podium in local masters races sometimes if the weather condition is right and nobody else shows up.

Things were much the same when she was racing against men. She started her medical transition a little over three years ago, and she transitioned to womens competitions shortly after. Despite reading headlines and quotes from some professional athletes about her unfair advantage in sports, Seplavy is like the vast majority of trans women in womens sports: good enough to compete, but often just not fast enough or strong enough to win.

I hit the podium in local masters races sometimes if the weather condition is right and nobody else shows up.

Like so many other trans women in womens sports, Seplavy has been frustrated by the growing chorus of detractors who claim her very presence in womens sports puts the future existence of womens sports at risk. While some trans women are finding competitive success in sports, she knows she will never be the dominant trans female athlete held up by a few loud voices as the harbinger of doom for womens sports.

Part of Seplavys frustration is the first-hand knowledge she has of the rapid decline in performance trans women experience as they transition. She can quantify to some extent the change in her personal performance since transitioning. While competing against men years before her transition, she raced a local course in 2 hours, 20 minutes. Post-transition the same course took her 2:29, over a 6% drop.

Yet the gap would be greater if she were able to compare apples to apples. Racing in her pre-transition 20s and 30, Seplavy gave little care for her body, weighing around 40 pounds more then than she does now. She was, of course, also a decade-plus younger. If she had trained as hard then as she does now, that 2:20 would have been considerably lower, she asserts.

In addition, Seplavy said post-transition training is that much more difficult.

A lot of people dont realize how hard it is to athletically train when youre on hormones, she said. As my coach said, Im anti-doping. Im putting chemicals in my body that actually detract from athletic performance.

With all that, of the 100 or so womens bike races shes entered in the last three years, she cant even remember the last time I legitimately won a bike race. She said depending on who shows up for a race she may land on a podium (top-three) in an age category.

I went from being a mediocre dude on a bike to being a mediocre woman on a bike. Its not like I just changed my gender and my times stayed the same. I have to work that much harder for marginal gain.

In Buffalo, distance runner Allayva Stier has had a similar experience.

I only win when other people dont show up, Stier said.

Like Seplavy, she reports on a more difficult path to reaching what is an even slower time than her pre-transition performance. Pre-transition she was running only two or three times a week, and now shes training five times a week.

Its harder for me to drop a 7-minute mile than it was beforehand.

Im putting in significantly more work than I was putting in beforehand, she said. To maintain your fitness after you transition, you have to work more diligently. You have to be more purposeful. Before I could go in and run and lift and work out a couple times a week. That doesnt cut it anymore. I cant maintain my fitness if I dont put in the work consistently. Its harder for me to drop a 7-minute mile than it was beforehand.

This year shes run about 35 races and won two of them. Those two victories, she said, came because other people simply decided to not race. Winning a race is, of course, ultimately relative.

Of my group of running friends Im literally the slowest. If any one of them would have shown up, I wouldnt have won.

This isnt to say shes not naturally talented. At her high school she was one of the fastest in the boys races, winning some middle-distance dual meets and earning a spot at state sectionals. As she continued running through her transition competing against men and then women she saw first-hand the rapid decrease in her speed.

My competitiveness against the men was slowly going away. I was seeing my times drop. Nobody sees that process.

That level of competitiveness against the men pre-transition has matched up pretty evenly with her post-transition competitiveness against other women. Racing against men, she would earn a second or third in her age bracket in local races, with an overall top-10 finish here and there, despite not working nearly as hard as she does now.

Playing soccer throughout her transition, goalie Athena Del Rosario also saw first-hand the immediate impact transitioning had on her game.

As she began to self-medicate with estrogen and androgen blockers as a teenager, she transferred high schools to get a fresh start on life. When she tried out for her new schools soccer team, she quickly noticed her strength and speed had already diminished. One of the fastest kids on her boys soccer team at her first school, by the end of her senior year at her new school she was one of the slowest.

When she competed against her old high school team later that season, she said her former teammates who didnt know she was transitioning and on hormones noticed her decline in ability and asked her what was going on.

I noticed it the first day reporting to my new school, Del Rosario said. It was pretty obvious.

I didnt just walk in there and have it handed to me. I had to earn it.

By the time she transferred from her community college to UC-Santa Cruz several years later, she had to battle for playing time. She was out of shape, having gained 30 pounds after the death of her mother. She sat on the bench for much of her first season at UCSC, getting a shot when an injury befell the teams starting goalkeeper.

I had to put a lot of work in between seasons, and what set me apart from the other goalkeeper was that I got into better shape and I worked harder. I didnt just walk in there and have it handed to me. I had to earn it.

Still with all the hard work, Del Rosario still struggled at times to pass the teams fitness test. Her speed and strength had dropped to lower than a lot of the other women.

I was passing fitness tests, but I wasnt the fastest. And I was in shape. But we had girls running six-and-a-half-minute miles, and I was around seven minutes, barely passing the mile test.

With Del Rosario as a full-time starter her senior season, the Banana Slugs compiled a record of 6-11-1, earning a spot in the NCAA tournament where they lost in the first round.

She was good. She was competitive. But her unfair advantage claimed by some was a figment of critics imagination.

Since graduating, she has taken her goalkeeping skills to handball. There shes found shes again competitive, and again in the mix for some playing time, but shes still not a physically intimidating figure dominating other women.

Out of the pool of goalkeepers for my team, Im not the strongest. Im not the tallest. Its all very competitive and were having a goalkeeper competition thats very competitive.

Jessica Platt is just looking for another shot at some ice time.

Having played a couple seasons in the now-defunct Canadian Womens Hockey League, Platt considers herself a middle-of-the-pack player, maybe on the lower end of that.

The women I play against are incredible and they work equally hard. Im fairly average in the league.

Now with the league having folded and playing exhibition games for the Professional Womens Hockey Players Association, as well as getting some ice time with a Senior A team, shes hoping someone gives her another chance in womens pro hockey.

As hard as I work out and as much as I train and as much as I try, the women I play against are incredible and they work equally hard. Im fairly average in the league.

Her self-described average standing among the other women in professional hockey isnt for lack of effort. Since transitioning she too has dramatically increased how hard she works off the ice, saying she was probably up there in the amount of time working out in the league.

Platt, now 30, also doesnt suffer from lack of experience. Shes been ice skating since she was 3 and playing ice hockey starting with the kids in the neighborhood since she was 4. From age 8 or so she was part of a boys traveling hockey team until she was in her late teens.

Even with the hockey success she was desperately unhappy, burdened with her true identity. By the time she began her transition in 2012 she had left hockey behind completely.

Yet once happiness found her well into her gender-affirming transition, Platt started looking back at her time in hockey with a blissful recollection that left her wanting more.

Just as a teenage Platt was successful in boys hockey, she has found a place in womens professional hockey because of her natural instincts in the rink.

My dad always said I somehow just knew where everyone was on the ice. I had a great hockey sense.

Today she focuses on improving the things that are holding her back from being considered one of the best in her sport. For starters, she hasnt been playing womens hockey for very long and the systems are different. Theres a learning curve to that, and shes behind the puck on it compared to other women in pro hockey.

Plus, she said her puck control isnt the best. Given that shes always been a defenseman and now shes playing forward, thats gotten in the way a bit too.

In other words, shes experiencing the same struggles as any other athlete would, finding the same modicum of elite-level success as a woman that she found in boys hockey.

If youre mediocre as a man, it makes sense that youd be mediocre as a woman, Platt said. If youre dominating as a man, it makes sense that you would dominate as a woman.

While critics point to a handful who have won titles of late, no trans athlete is currently dominating womens sports. To be sure, some trans women have found various levels of success. Yet the majority find themselves like these four athletes hitting the gym and running laps in hopes of setting a P.R. or simply making a teams roster.

Were just like all the other athletes, Platt said. Some of us have certain skills, certain talents. But we all work hard to get where were at.

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Meet trans athletes who work hard, do their best and rarely win - Outsports

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December 4th, 2019 at 5:46 pm