By Emmett Stanford
I was raised as a military brat with a very black and white mentality. It helped me to develop the mental fortitude needed to overcome a lot of obstacles I faced in my journey to self discovery and acceptance, both on and off the race course. I first “discovered” my trans identity when I was about 14 years old, after finding others who shared the same struggles with dysphoria I have always felt. Finally, there was a word and a whole community to describe almost to a ‘T’ who I was.
I discovered the Spartan race series around 2011 when my Mom signed herself and I up for the 5k distance. I ended up coming down with the flu and could not race, but was still determined to eventually finish one. I was supposed to race in my first Spartan Race in 2014, but broke my back in a soccer accident which ended yet another opportunity before it even began. Once I was cleared to resume physical activities again, I discovered CrossFit, and my love for the sport blossomed ten-fold. It was around this time that I came out as trans, but at the time trans athletes were not allowed to compete in their transitioned gender within the CrossFit games series. I once again found myself feeling defeated, and categorized myself as a misfit puzzle piece. I discovered my passion for long distance running later that year when I finished my first half marathon in October.
In 2015, I completed my first Spartan Race. I knew my body was capable of finishing a longer distance than their Sprint option (5K, or 3.1 miles) so I signed up for (and completed) the Beast (13+ miles.) I also completed my first ultra race, a 36 mile mountain race in October of the same year. In 2016, I completed my first Trifecta (finished every distance race in the series) and fell in love with the Spartan races and mentality all over again. The following year, I completed my first spartan ultra distance race, a 50k in Breckenridge (the same venue as my first Spartan). It was in Spring of this year that I was invited to race in the Ultra World Championships as an elite athlete in Iceland after my performance in the previous race in Breckenridge. Except this time, I would not be racing as a female athlete. Not only did I want to prove to myself that I could keep up with cisgender male elite-level sponsored athletes, but the rest of the world, since I would have a global audience watching me. I’d say I can attribute my Spartan mentality to my military upbringing, when in reality I forged myself through discouragement and getting back up after I was knocked down several times.
Throughout my experiences an an athlete, I gradually became inspired to speak out because I saw how much backlash other trans athletes faced as they came out. I was always raised to stand up for those who could not, to stand up and stand tall when in the face of adversity and most importantly, to never falter in what I believed in.
I want young trans athletes to realize their potential is not limited by what society dictates as “normal.” I was not born with the ideal running structure, yet here I am with the goal of finishing over 50 miles in 24 hours in December. I will be racing against sponsored male athletes who have the gift and advantage of being born cis-males with the hopes that I can show the world that we can not only keep up, but surpass everyone’s expectations. Whether that’s as an obstacle course racer, wrestler or track and field athlete, we are just as capable.
It is because of this realization that my partner and I have started a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that will eventually sponsor several athletes a year to compete as their chosen gender in their sport of choice. Far too many athletes never are given the opportunity to realize their true potential, and as a result commit suicide or give up the fight because they didn’t have anyone on their sideline cheering for them and helping them up off the ground when they were knocked down. I know the feeling all too well, and if I can help just one person and know I made a difference, then I have finally found the puzzle I fit into. No longer am I the misfit puzzle piece I thought I once was.
I’m grateful to have connected with Athlete Ally, because I believe in their purpose. I truly believe that if others understand your purpose, they’ll learn to believe in what you’re doing. Athlete Ally’s mission aligns directly with everything I’ve fought tirelessly for. No one should ever have to feel ashamed of who they are, and as a result give up their passion before they live out their potential. We, as adverse athletes, are destined for greatness and should be able to strive to reach for the stars, just like our straight and cis-gender counterparts.