By Lauren Harrigian
I’m Lauren, and I’m a competitive distance runner, a woman, and a warrior. I first got into running as a high school sophomore in Norway, when I signed up for the cross country team. I fell in love with running because I’ve always been an independent person, and I love that running is all about doing my best as an individual.
Running always felt like a safe place for me. I was always the skinny kid who was never picked for other sports, but who could run fast. I never felt like I belonged with the boys. Once I started running, I no longer felt lost. During that time, I was struggling with my identity and I did not know what trans was, but I knew I felt more comfortable with the girls’ team. I kept feeling like I wasn’t competing in the right category as a boy. My race performance was affected, because I was not racing as myself and instead with a mask I never wanted to wear.
Despite this, I was fast enough to sign with New Mexico State University. In college, I struggled constantly with how to be happy. Of course, I was happy when I won races or did well in school, but I was never truly happy. I started exploring what it would be like to be my authentic self, but only in secret. I was scared to come out because I didn’t know if I’d still be able to compete as a trans athlete. The last thing I wanted was to lose access to the sport I loved. It was so hard to juggle being competitive in my sport while being myself.
Towards the end of my sophomore year, I injured my knee, and my dog passed away from cancer. My depression got even worse. I used to stay in my room, crying myself to sleep most nights. I didn’t have running as an outlet. I thought of ending my life, at one point, because I couldn’t run or be myself.
When I was finally able to run again, I knew I needed to find LGBTQ community. I found the LGBTQ group on my campus and gradually worked up the courage to go to a meeting. I walked in, met a girl from the group, and sat with her talking about what I had been feeling and why. She really shined a light on my experience and made me feel seen. I finally told myself, “Yes, this is me, and I should do me.” At the same time, I didn’t know any fast trans runners like myself, and I didn’t know how being out would affect my ability to compete as a NCAA athlete.
I started to come out to my close friends. Every one of them was supportive. I told them that, as an honest person, I would never race without knowing my hormone levels and being sure I was within the required range.
Now, I can’t imagine living my life as the wrong gender. Ever since starting Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), I have been so much happier. My running has improved, and now, I’m able to race without the stress of gender dysphoria looming over me.
Since moving to Arizona for grad school, I decided to be myself and go all in being me. Through social media, I found a group of trans runners. This group has been so helpful giving me the right advice and direction to follow in becoming myself as an athlete! Being in this group has given me so much confidence in my ability to compete as who I truly am.
I’ve had positive experiences as a transgender competitive athlete. Before each race, I make sure my levels are within racing guidelines so that I’m racing legally. Sometimes, choosing a race can be difficult, as I have to let the race director know I am trans prior to being accepted for the race. I love being able to be myself when I race.
I believe that competitive running, and just running in general, is different with HRT. Within society as a whole, a better understanding of how the science behind hormones works, and how it affects your ability, is needed. I have found, because runners are mostly open minded, they really don’t care too much about what one’s orientation is. Whenever there is a competitive sector, more pressure exists on where one’s hormone levels stand.
My advice to young LGBTQ runners is go to your first race with a friend, because having someone supporting you can make a world of difference. Once you get done with that first race, as yourself, it is the most epic feeling ever! After my first race as myself, I felt awesome. At my second race, I actually won top overall female, and I swear it felt so right!
What I love about Athlete Ally is their work to help LGBTQ people love and accept themselves while still competing at the highest level, or any level, of sport. I love reading about LGBTQ athletes who have thrived, because it is so important to be yourself and be in the sport you love!