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Trans Awareness Week: Stories from sports in 2020 show importance of teamwork and community

Racing driver Charlie Martin, athlete Chris Mosier, cricketer Maxine Blythin and football fan Spencer Holmes share their 2020 sports experiences and discuss the key messages of Trans Awareness Week

Charlie Martin, racing driver (Praga UK)
Image: Racing driver Charlie Martin continues to use her visibility in sport to raise awareness for the trans community (image: Praga UK)

From the thrill of hitting 170mph on the racetrack to the passion displayed when cheering on your club, the range of emotions in sport are extensive and diverse.

For some, satisfaction comes from personal bests and achieving individual targets; for others, the joy lies in the shared experience of being part of a team.

For trans people, participation in sport at any level can pose challenges but increasingly, there are stories of positivity too. In Trans Awareness Week, an annual activation that leads up to Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, members of the community and their allies are helping to broaden understanding through telling their own stories and explaining what it means to be trans.

To reflect this, Sky Sports invited four trans people with different connections to sport to talk about their lived experiences, their highs and lows in this most unusual of years, and what they hope others might learn at this time of year…

A need for speed - and solidarity

Racing driver Charlie Martin competed in the German VLN Championship endurance series in 2020. She is a Stonewall Sport Champion, an Athlete Ally ambassador, and a patron of Mermaids UK.

Charlie Martin, Racepix
Image: Martin was part of the Adrenaline-Motorsport team that took part in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring race (image: Racepix)

I feel lucky that my season has actually gone pretty well. All racing stopped in Germany in mid-March but we got back out there in June and only missed a few races off the calendar. My standout moment was without doubt getting to race in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring in September - I was also the first trans driver ever to do so. I felt incredibly proud to achieve something so high profile.

The lockdown period from March to June was really challenging in terms of maintaining fitness and focus, but I'm a big believer in seeing adversity as an opportunity to grow, adapt, and overcome. I live in the countryside and my neighbour is also a racing driver/coach who does MMA, so we trained a lot outside and helped keep each other motivated.

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I usually do a lot of speaking work and events linked to Pride but as those stopped, Esports took off in a big way and I was able to drive in championships like the ABB Formula E Race at Home Challenge. Since then, I've been working a lot in this industry. It's taught me to be resourceful - when you don't have much available to you and the things you rely on are taken away, it forces you to be creative and explore new ways of working.

Charlie Martin, 24 Hours of Nurburgring (Racepix)
Image: The wet conditions made September's race even trickier for Martin and her team-mates in the BMW M240i category (image: Racepix)

I believe you should always stay open to possibilities. I've raced in numerous teams over the years, and the whole time I've been open about who I am. I make it clear that I don't expect special treatment - I just want to fit in. Even so, I've often felt like me being trans can be the elephant in the room. I don't feel the need to constantly talk about it, but inevitably there are times when this can feel strange at best, when you sense that no one seems comfortable to bring it up. It can feel passive-aggressive.

Next year, I'm going to be racing with the Czech manufacturer Praga in Britcar. From day one, the team have completely supported the work I'm doing to make motorsport more inclusive. Unprompted, they included my story in press releases, recognising that it's an important part of who I am. I was selected because I can drive the car quickly, but I also feel that my personal journey was being acknowledged for all the right reasons.

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Jamie Redknapp took on Martin for a special Silverstone challenge in Sky Sports' 'I'm Game' series and learned more about her journey in motorsport as a trans woman

Not long after, I was chatting with one of the top people in the team over a cup of tea when he told me a genuine and heart-warming story about someone he'd met many years ago who transitioned. There was nothing contrived about it - it just felt normal, in the best way.

I feel I'm in such a perfect environment to give my absolute best next season, because I just know that I'm in a team where I can be authentic. I don't have to self-censor or dilute the fact that I'm trans just to make it easier or less awkward for the people around me because they are 100% on board with who I am. It's no surprise the team won the championship this year - the Praga R1T is amazing to drive and we're all just so motivated to go out and win together in 2021.

Breaking down barriers energises me. I feel like one of the barriers society faces in terms of fostering more acceptance and empathy is the difficulty each of us faces at times when confronting issues that make us feel uncomfortable.

Sometimes we struggle through a fear of saying the wrong thing and causing offence. I've been watching Grayson Perry's Big American Road Trip series recently and he has this wonderful way of tackling subjects that people find difficult - there's honesty, tact, and intuition. It caught my imagination. We all need to be brave at times and Grayson demonstrates this so well.

Shaped by adversity, chasing equality

Chris Mosier is a trail-blazing athlete and activist from Chicago. In 2016, he became the first trans athlete to represent the USA in international competition, in duathlon - and this year brought another landmark achievement for him.

Chris Mosier, US Olympic team trials
Image: Chris Mosier made history at the US Olympic men's 50km race walk Team Trials in California in January

Back in January, I experienced one of the most incredible athletic moments in my career when I competed in the United States Olympic Team Trials for men's 50k racewalking.

It was a major goal of mine to make it to the Trials, not only as an achievement in my own athletic résumé but as a moment for all trans people in sports. It meant that in the US, I was the first trans athlete to participate in an Olympic Trials in the gender with which they identify, which brings us one step closer to having trans people in sport at the highest levels of play. I was thrilled with how welcomed and accepted I was by the racewalking community and the new folks I met. The big joke was whether it was more difficult to come out as trans or to come out as a racewalker!

Ultimately, I had to pull out of that race with a torn meniscus and I chose not to have surgery. In a bright spot in COVID times, the cancellation of all of my races and World Championship events gave me ample time, without any pressure to recover faster or push in unhelpful ways. My knee is now feeling stronger than ever and I'm getting back to training.

Chris Mosier, race walker
Image: Mosier vowed 'this isn't the end' after injury ended his hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics

With that, 2020 has taught me patience and reinforced the idea that I can only control what I can control, and there are a lot of other factors I have no ability to change. My job, then, is to respond to what is thrown at me in the best possible way. This year has thrown a lot at all of us; I feel like this is a universal lesson in letting go of our expectations and taking personal responsibility for what we can do.

One important point to raise in Trans Awareness Week is that there isn't just one way to be transgender. If you've met a trans person, you've just met one person. No trans person, no trans athlete, can represent our entire community. We're as diverse as anyone else - we all have hopes, aspirations, passions, and interests that go far beyond our identity as trans people. And if any cisgender person had a conversation with a trans person, particularly athlete to athlete, it's likely we'll have a lot more in common than folks might think.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Chris Mosier attends "Out in Sports" panel at Tribeca Celebrates Pride Day at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studio on May 4, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
Image: Mosier is an in-demand public speaker and Nike-sponsored athlete who is helping to change perceptions about trans people in sport

People often lose the humanity of the individuals when talking about trans athletes as a group, particularly when "debating" where we belong in sport. However, it's important to remember that we are people, and that no trans person is transitioning in order to excel in sports - what we are faced with in the rest of our lives would never offset any athletic accomplishment.

A lot of young transgender and non-binary athletes reach out to me to tell me they're grateful to see a reflection of themselves in sport, or that seeing me helped them make the decision to continue playing what they love. That really inspires me.

When I was younger, some people told me that I would never be competitive against men because I was assigned female at birth. I've taken that idea and used it as the fuel for my training and racing. I've also been shaped by the observations of how differently I was treated when I was a young female athlete compared to how I saw my brother was treated in sports at that age, and how I've been treated myself as a male athlete.

There's such an incredible amount of sexism within sport and those comparisons drive me to want to excel athletically so I can continue to have a platform to call out the sexism, transphobia, and homophobia I see in sport.

'Where Eagles dare - that's my home'

Spencer Holmes is a Crystal Palace supporter and a member of the club's official LGBT+ fans group, Proud and Palace.

Spencer Holmes, Crystal Palace fan
Image: Spencer Holmes says being part of the Proud and Palace community has helped him feel connected during the pandemic

Being a Palace fan isn't always easy to say the least, but 2020 has definitely thrown some interesting spanners in the works. I actually live in Bournemouth and the first of our games that got called off due to the pandemic was at the Vitality so naturally I was gutted. When the season did restart, we won that fixture - a few of us took part in the Premier League fan wall, which was a great experience - and I thought we might finish relatively high up the table. But then we lost seven in a row!

I definitely want more going into 2021 - we've made a decent start to this season and we have the capability, we just need to focus. Proud and Palace have been fantastic in helping to keeping us all connected, particularly with the podcast they do, and last month a few of us took part in the annual Palace for Life Marathon March, raising money for the Palace For Life Foundation by walking from Selhurst Park all around South London and back to the stadium.

Trans Awareness Week is helping to teach people that what it means to be trans is simply being your authentic self - living without barriers. Nothing should stand in the way of what you want to achieve and I think that filters into the ethos of athletes too. There's a real sense of community with sport and that resonates strongly with transgender people.

I've recently rediscovered my love for NBA and one of my many role models when it comes to trans people and their allies is Dwyane Wade, who was a three-time champion with Miami Heat. His daughter Zaya is trans - Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union have been amazing and so inspiring in the way they have spoken out about trans issues. They both have a huge worldwide following which is great for awareness and it's really beautiful to see how supportive they are to Zaya.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 07: (L-R) Dwyane Wade, Zaya Wade, Gabrielle Union, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Vincent Hughes attend the Better Brothers Los Angeles' 6th annual Truth Awards at Taglyan Complex on March 07, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)
Image: Dwyane Wade, his daughter Zaya, and wife Gabrielle Union with the actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and her husband Vincent Hughes at an event in Los Angeles in March 2020

I'm glad to say my own relationship with sport has been relatively smooth, but my love of football was interrupted for a long time. As a child, from as young as I can remember, I was obsessed with the game and I used to train with a small group in my home town. However, when that team joined a league, I was told I couldn't play as it was boys only. I was devastated and I pretty much gave up on football for about 15 years until I met my now fiancé. She's a Newcastle fan, but nobody's perfect!

Through her, I've fallen back in love with football and getting involved with Proud and Palace has been integral in giving me the confidence to attend games. Selhurst Park has become one of my favourite places in the world.

No boundaries to camaraderie in cricket

Maxine Blythin plays cricket for Kent and was part of the South East Stars squad that took part in the Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy in August and September.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19: Maxine Blythin of South East Stars poses for a portrait during the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy match between South East Stars and Southern Vipers at The Oval on September 19, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Image: Maxine Blythin played in two of the South East Stars' Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy matches

We managed to get in one County-level training session before lockdown in March - and all sessions were then cancelled. I was training on my own with a home workout routine, waiting for an update as the summer approached. It was an interesting time to be stuck at home as my partner has recently caught the cricketing bug - she spent the entirety of lockdown using me as a bowling machine as soon as we were able to go as a pair to a net, which is exactly what I did to my whole family when I was younger!

Fortunately, cricket did come back - first for me was a handful of county games, and then the Rachel Heyhoe Flint (RHF) Trophy. With the travel restrictions, I also chose to play for my local club along with my partner. I think my favourite achievement of the year was taking a catch off her bowling in the first game we played together.

I've become a lot more involved with the club to help support some of our developing players, both in terms of technique and confidence. It's amazing how stepping back to support other players can help you examine your own approach to the game, and it gave me perspective on making sure I truly enjoy each game I play.

Maxine Blythin, South East Stars
Image: The Stars squad was made up of players from Surrey and Kent

Being part of the RHF regional competition was so exciting and gave me the opportunity to improve my cricket to a higher standard. It also offered me the chance to develop new friendships and strengthen support networks. I'd had some negative experiences in cricket last year so training on my own gave me space to recognise my love and appreciation, not only for the sport, but for the friends I've made through it. It could have been a lost summer, but the fact that competitive seasons were pulled together over all levels of the game was an incredible achievement, made possible by those who truly love and care for women's cricket.

I've had a passion for the sport my whole life. Joining a women's team after coming out as trans was certainly a daunting and scary prospect, and I wasn't sure of the rules for me playing or if I would even be wanted. I was very open and upfront with the captain and the club from the start of me joining, and I was greeted with open arms.

I can say that for every women's team that I've played for, I've been welcomed and supported. The only time I've ever experienced negativity to me playing has been from people outside of the sport but when this has happened, the love I've received from teammates, and people I have played against, has been overwhelming.

One team all got rainbow bracelets as a show of support; another all got rainbow laces. I had people checking in on me, making sure I knew I was wanted. Even after all that backlash, when I worried that teams might not want me to play for them and risk the negative media, I was offered a contract to play for the next level of cricket. I can't even begin to say how much that meant to me.

Maxine Blythin, Kent Women cricket, rainbow armbands
Image: Kent players wore rainbow bracelets as a show of support for their team-mate in August 2019

Despite those worries at times along the way, I haven't been met with rejection, but have instead found a renewed love for playing the game. I don't receive any different treatment and I'm just treated as any other cricketer.

Trans people in sport just want to participate - we want to be part of a team, lifting up others, and being part of something bigger than ourselves. I get so much joy from playing, from being part of a team, from having good days and watching others succeed when I don't have good days. My experience playing sport should be the same as anyone else's - it's so important to keep fighting for inclusion across all sports, and for everyone.

Sky offers support for our viewers and readers on a broad range of topics, including gender identity - follow the link to find out more.

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, returning for its annual activation from November 26 to December 13. If you'd like to help inspire others in sport by sharing your own story of being LGBT+ or an ally, please contact us here.

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