‘For my people’: a transgender woman pursues an Olympic dream


SWANZEY, NH – During a drive on a steep, winding road in this small town, it would be no surprise to see an elite obstacle race jumping into the bushes to avoid being hit by a car these days.

That hurdle player, CeCe Telfer, is hoping to qualify for the United States Olympic Trials starting June 18 in Eugene, Ore. Asphalt road is his primary training facility.

In 2019, Telfer became the first openly transgender woman to win the NCAA title; She was Fifth year senior at Franklin Pierce University, a Division II School in Rindge, NH Now, she is among the handful of transgender women who wish to participate in the Tokyo Games starting in late July.

Olympic historians state that no athletes in the Winter or Summer Games publicly identified themselves as transgender when they competed. At least two announced that they were transgender some time later, including Katiline Jenner, who won a gold medal in the Decathlon in 1976.

Some athletes who publicly identify as transgender will compete in the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer, though Many contestants are still trying to qualify. Yet as opportunities have opened up for transgender athletes at the college and Olympic levels, there is a spike in state legislation to prohibit transgender athletes across the United States – primarily younger girls – matching their gender identities From competing on teams.

Recent skirmishes over transgender athletes have made it more important for Telfer to capitalize on their chance of elite competition.

“It’s important for me to do this for these kids,” the 26-year-old Telfer said while sitting on the back porch of her college psychologist’s house. “It is important for me to do this for my people – whether it is women, black people, transgender people, LGBTQ people – anyone who is investigated and harassed.”

It has been difficult for the Olympic trials. She struggled to find a coach who would support her during the coronovirus epidemic, and even went to Mexico for brief training. Telfer eventually returned to New Hampshire, where she was sleeping in her car, until a psychologist invited her to stay at her home in Swanzey, a town far from Franklin Pearce.

Three days a week, training sessions mainly consist of cars on Telfer and Swanzey asphalt. For three other days, Telfer drives approximately two hours to a high school track in a Boston suburb. There, she can use obstacles and work with another athlete.

She fulfills the eligibility requirements of the International Olympic Committee after lowering her testosterone levels and maintaining them for at least one year. But to reach the Tokyo Games, where she hopes to run in the 400-meter hurdles, Telfer must first qualify for the national trial. To do this, he has to participate in the race In 56.5 seconds It will be tough at the feeder meet – his best time so far has been 57.5 seconds in the qualifying meet.

If Telfer makes it to the trial, he will have to be in the top three in his event for a chance to go to Tokyo.

After leaving college in the spring of 2019, Telfer tried to convince several coaches to help him achieve his Olympic goal. The two initially agreed to work with him.

One stopped responding when she realized she was transgender, Telfer said. The second was in Mexico. In February, after nearly two years of training on his own, Telfer left his apartment and job at a nursing home in New Hampshire and took off. She stayed with a friend’s family and was coached for the first time after college.

But his stay was brief. Telfer, who grew up mostly in Jamaica and Canada, needed to return to the United States to see his application for US citizenship, which was granted on 14 May.

When she came back to New Hampshire, she spent a few days in couch surfing. When he was no longer an option, he spent two weeks sleeping in his car. She kept warm by wearing two sweaters, as well as leggings with sweatpants on them and wrapping herself in blankets from college. She parked at various truck stops and park-and-ride lots. She skipped breakfast and lunch regularly, and ate mainly cooked rotisserie chicken that she could buy cheaply at the supermarket.

Nicole Newell, director of consulting at Franklin Pierce, learned about Telfer’s situation and offered a place to live. Occasionally, she can see Telfer running up the hill outside her window.

“No matter what comes to her, she just keeps going,” Newell said. “And it’s unbelievable.”

Although some people have embraced him, Telfer has always felt like an outsider. She said, she looks awkward in public and makes death threats on social media, and feels out of place as a black person in the majority-white community.

“I was always the ‘seventh friend’,” she said. “Nobody will invite me first. I would be the last or I would invite myself. “

Telfer was raised by a single mother and hid her gender dysphoria for fear of being persecuted. She began running track at a primary school in Jamaica, where sports in her age group were not separated by gender. When his family moved to Lebanon, NH, the summer before his junior year of high school, he continued to run in men’s teams.

She saw herself as a runner, she said, but her coach pushed her toward the hurdles.

She entered Franklin Pierce in the fall of 2014 and began competing in the men’s team in 2016, although she publicly identified herself as a woman. Telfer stepped away from the track for some time after being uncomfortable with the way others regarded him in the spring of 2017, and he soon began suppressing testosterone.

“They didn’t know I was a woman competing in the sport I love,” Telfer said of running against men. “They were starting to see me as a gay male athlete walking with cisgender men,” she said, referring to those who identify with the gender that assigned them at birth I went.

At the beginning of the 2018–19 school year, Telfer said, she moved into her coach’s office with a friend and asked her to compete with other women. He expected the coach to be bald. Instead, she recalled, she replied: “Eventually.”

“Then I started crying, and then my friend started crying,” Telfer said. “It seems we had no idea what was going on, and he said, ‘You can compete as a CEC, as yourself, as a girl.'”

Her excitement, she said, was angered by a response. The parents of Telfer’s competitors objected that she had an athletic advantage.

College and Olympic sports allow transgender women to compete in women’s divisions, as long as they meet various testosterone-suppression requirements. There is little research on how such hormone treatments affect elite athletes.

Some research indicates That one year after hormone therapy that began after puberty, transgender women have retained some of the muscle and strength benefits fueled by testosterone. Other research Indicates that strength gains, but not cardiovascular ones, decrease after two years.

Citing perceived competitive advantage, but Little evidence Women’s sports were dominated by transgender athletes, lawmakers in more than 30 states have introduced bills aimed at preventing transgender women and girls from competing in teams that match their gender identities.

Six states – Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Montana and West Virginia – have enacted such laws in recent legislative sessions, According to Human rights campaign. Gov. Christie Noam of South Dakota signed two executive orders that would similarly limit participation; Idaho enacted a law last summer, but has since been upheld by a federal judge.

“Seeing how the world hates people like me, the dream not only became a reality, but it had a greater meaning,” Telfer said.

When Telfer came to her mother on the phone in 2018, she was told that she would probably never see her immediate family again.

Larry Leach, who played basketball at Franklin Pearce in the early 1980s and returned as vice president for alumni affairs while Telfer was a student, became a mentor to him as he began his life as a student-athlete Navigated and struggled with his identity. When she came out to her mother, she was standing in the room with Telfer.

Leach said in a phone interview, “To hear and hear that a mother would, under no circumstances, accept a child, was sad for me – for CECE – because I know how badly she supports her mother.” Wants to. ” “She gets it from other people, but the longing to get it from her mother means more than I can support her or anyone else who supports her.”

While she is on track, Telfer puts aside the broader issues and focuses more on the clock and her Olympic dreams. She hopes to hit her qualifying time for the trial in a meeting in early June.

“I really have to believe that this is going to help me with the tests,” Telfer said of his training. “When I open my eyes, I can only watch the Olympic trials.”

Jere Longman Contributed to reporting.

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