Transgender Marathon Runner Challenges Anti-Doping Policy

A trans and non-binary marathon runner has drawn attention to an excessive anti-doping policy that makes it more difficult for trans athletes to participate in US marathons. Here’s the story. 

Unfair Treatment in Sports

“I feel optimistic that change is possible” – When 27-year-old marathon runner Cal Calamia was contacted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and told that he had to apply for a special exemption to continue participating in marathons, it drew attention to what he and others feel is unfair treatment of trans athletes in the sport.

Calamia is a trans and nonbinary runner who uses ‘he/they’ pronouns and has been running in the newly introduced ‘non-binary’ category in a number of city marathons this year.

But last summer, after participating in a number of marathons in the nonbinary category, Calamia received a call from the USADA.

Using a Prohibited Substance

The USADA had been made aware of Calamia’s use of testosterone, which is a prohibited substance for professional sportspeople under USADA policy.

He was told that in order to continue participating in US marathons, he would need to obtain a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) through their agency.

Since testosterone is used for gender-affirming therapy, many trans men and non-binary people would need to apply for an exemption successfully to continue partaking in sporting events like the New York and Boston Marathon. And the requirements for the application were quite extensive. 

Too Many Requirements

Trans athletes seeking a TUE must compile a daunting list of official documents, from a full medical history and psychological record to documentation of any sex reassignment surgery even though it has nothing to do with hormone treatments. 

“The whole thing hinges upon this diagnosis, the idea that being trans is a disorder,” Calamia told NPR. 

A Risky Move

However, when submitting his TUE application, Calamia chose to substitute his medical and psychological records with different materials.

Though this could put his application and career as a runner in jeopardy, Calamia says it is an important step in advocating for the privacy of transgender competitors.

“I don’t want to set a precedent that this is a normal amount of information to submit to this agency to even show up to a race,” he explained. “There’s no way.”

Based in Science

The prohibition of testosterone in marathon running and other sports is based on peer-reviewed studies, according to USADA chief science officer Matthew Fedoruk.

High doses of synthetic testosterone can have the same effects as performance-enhancing drugs. However, gender-affirming therapy typically employs much lower doses. 

Professionals Deny It

Some researchers have denied the claim that synthetic testosterone is “performance enhancing” at its core, such as anthropologist Katrina Karkazi. “Sometimes people with higher levels do better,”

Karkazi said. “Sometimes people with higher levels do the same. And sometimes people with higher levels do worse.”

It took weeks for Calamia to hear back from the USADA concerning his application, which exceeded the agency’s own 21-day response deadline. But finally, he received an email approving his application and providing a 10-year exemption. 

Change Is Coming

Calamia can now run in both the nonbinary and men’s categories for US marathons. 

“I just want to cry with how relieved I feel that I can run my race and not feel like I’m doing something wrong for just being there,” he exclaimed. “I feel optimistic again that change is possible and that change is going to happen.”

Calamia has been a staunch advocate for trans and nonbinary spaces in US marathons and was even mentioned in the New York Times for his role in calling for the Boston marathon to include a nonbinary category.

Two Years of Success

In the last two years, he has won the 2022 San Francisco marathon in the non-binary category and came second in the 2022 Chicago and 2023 Boston marathons in the same category.

“I was just on cloud nine,” he recalled. “The possibility to participate in nonbinary divisions and then rally community support to make them better. I just was like, this is living.”

Trans and nonbinary advocates hope that the recent exemption for Calamia is pointing to a change in how anti-doping agencies approach transgender athletes, making application processes less invasive overall.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is currently reviewing its processes for transgender and nonbinary athletes.

The post Transgender Marathon Runner Challenges Anti-Doping Policy first appeared on Edge Media.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund.

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