An athlete from Vermont successfully advocated for a change to an upcoming California endurance competition — leading to a well-known triathlon becoming more inclusive.
"I’ve never been so excited for a race," beamed Chip Viau, an amateur triathlete who trains at The EDGE Sports & Fitness in Essex Junction.
Viau won a lottery, landing a coveted spot in this year’s Escape From Alcatraz Triathalon, which sees athletes swim a mile and a half of San Francisco Bay, then bike 18 miles and run eight miles on grueling terrain.
The event is scheduled for this coming weekend.
However, Viau, who works as a massage therapist, was originally not sure about participating in the triathlon.
"And I said to myself, 'I’m only going to do it if they open a category for me,'" Viau recalled in an interview with NECN & NBC10 Boston.
Viau is transgender and nonbinary, meaning they don’t neatly identify as either female or male.
When the more than 40-year-old event asked registrants to check one of those specific boxes, Viau felt uncomfortable and asked for a policy change.
"We’re just so stuck in a black and white, pink and blue type of society," Viau observed.
Jen Lau oversees the triathlon, and greenlit a new category for nonbinary racers. It is aimed at better welcoming Viau and other athletes, Lau explained in an interview.
"To me, this is the evolution — we’re moving with the times," the race organizer told NECN & NBC10 Boston. "Really, it’s about fostering and providing equal opportunities for people to participate. And it’s really about broadening and diversifying, I think, the athletic field."
The decision to create the nonbinary registration category made Viau feel like they belong, they said.
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Transgender triathletes could also enter according to their gender identity if they identify as male or female, according to the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon website. Or, participants may decline to disclose a gender and enter an open category.
That shift is in contrast to how a growing list of states have recently barred trans youth from competing on sports teams matching their identities — especially in public middle and high schools, but also at the college level in some places. A map from the equality advocates at the Movement Advancement Project lists those states.
Supporters of bans, like the one in Kentucky, insist they were designed to ensure fairness in women’s sports.
"Male athletes still have advantages even after testosterone suppression," Sen. Robby Mills, a Republican state lawmaker in Kentucky, argued earlier this year when the bill there was being debated. "The evidence shows that hormone therapy in males after puberty does not substantially eliminate the male athletic advantage."
Mills appears to have been referencing a study discussed in this NBC News article.
However, while training for this weekend’s endurance challenge in California, Chip Viau said they view many barriers to competing as discriminatory, unneeded, and harmful to young people’s mental health. Viau said they hope the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon’s new approach signals that everyone should be able to enjoy athletics.
"I think it’s just acknowledging all humans," Viau said of the policy change. "It’s just going to allow me to live my best life, really."
Viau said they see the experience as a win in advocating for inclusion — as debates over gender identity in sports will surely roll on.