Feature on Outsports

(Pic by @thephotopigeon at DCCX 2019)

From the 2020 GLAAD Award nominated article by Cyd Zeigler on Outsports.

“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, she’s been around the sport long enough to know exactly where she stands, and it’s generally not on a medal podium.

It’s not that she hasn’t tried to break out in the sport. Since transitioning genders she’s 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. I’m training many hours a week, I try to eat reasonably well and do the things athletes do. I’ve 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 women’s 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 women’s 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 women’s sports, Seplavy has been frustrated by the growing chorus of detractors who claim her very presence in women’s sports puts the future existence of women’s 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 women’s sports.

Part of Seplavy’s 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 don’t realize how hard it is to athletically train when you’re on hormones,” she said. “As my coach said, I’m anti-doping. I’m putting chemicals in my body that actually detract from athletic performance.”

With all that, of the 100 or so women’s bike races she’s entered in the last three years, she “can’t 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. It’s not like I just changed my gender and my times stayed the same. I have to work that much harder for marginal gain.”

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