Madison Kenyon is a rising sophomore at Idaho State University, where she competes in women’s Division 1 cross country and track. Going into the fall 2019 cross-country season, Kenyon discovered the starting blocks would look different: she would be competing against a male who identifies as female from the University of Montana. The student competed on the University of Montana men’s cross-country team for three years before identifying as a woman and switching to the women’s division. While competing in the men’s division, the transgender athlete had beaten the college women’s national record in several events.
Because Kenyon knew the NCAA required a year of successful testosterone suppression for a biological male to compete as a female, she kept an open mind entering the race.
But during the race, the transgender athlete beat Kenyon and dozens of other girls.
“It was frustrating to know that I was being beat by a male, but I think it really hit me when we’re watching the podium,” Kenyon said. “That’s when it hit me that this wasn’t fair, and that this is removing or dropping females back in their own sport.”
During the outdoor season, Kenyon raced against the transgender athlete in three competitions. In all three races, the transgender athlete beat her by a significant margin, causing Kenyon’s overall rankings to fall. The same thing happened when Kenyon competed against the transgender athlete in the indoor track season. The transgender athlete placed second in the women’s indoor mile, while Kenyon placed eighth.
Then at the 2020 Indoor Big Sky Championship, Kenyon again found herself competing against the transgender athlete, this time in a relay race.
Kenyon said that Montana State’s relay team was in sixth place before the transgender athlete began the final leg of the relay race, where she was able to advance Montana State’s position to finish second. Kenyon’s team placed fifth. Without the transgender athlete’s help, Kenyon believes they would have placed fourth.
“The impressive part about that was that in order to get there, the gap that the biological male had to close was huge,” Kenyon said, adding, “Females do not just go from sixth to second closing a huge gap in the conference championships, and that’s what happened. Watching it…I couldn’t believe it was real. I couldn’t believe that could happen and people still claim that it’s fair.”
Kenyon’s story highlights the growing challenges women and girls face while competing in their own sports. In addition to competing against biological males with physical advantages, girls and women may soon be forced to compete against them for college scholarships.
Kenyon, for example, attends Idaho State University on a scholarship and is studying biology to become a doctor:
“I’m here because I’m on scholarship and that scholarship has given me the opportunity to get an education, and not just the opportunity to run,” she said. “If I didn’t have that scholarship to get that education, I wouldn’t be getting that opportunity to go into the career I’m going to go into.”
In March, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which would protect girls and women from being forced to compete in sports against biological males based on their gender identity. After the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of trans athletes, however, a federal judge temporarily halted enforcement of the law until the lawsuit plays out. Mississippi passed a similar law, and others are brewing in more than two dozen states.
Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, Kenyon intervened in the ACLU’s lawsuit to defend Idaho’s “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” and is now using her story to make the case for protecting fairness in sports.
“When it comes down to competition, especially at the collegiate level, it’s not just about having relationships with teammates and a participation trophy,” she said, adding:
“We are making sacrifices in so many different ways and putting so much effort into our sport and training as hard as we can, as female athletes. And to see all of that work and effort be worth nothing when you race and a biological male beats you—because they have biological characteristics that are so much more advantageous than the biological characteristics females have—it’s extremely unfair. And it’s defeating.”
Image credits: Alliance Defending Freedom
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