COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Jillian Bearden has been cycling for at least 15 years, but she made a major shift within the last two when she started competing as a transgender athlete.
“Cycling saved me multiple times in my life,” Bearden said. “It gave me more of a focus and it took my mind away from this gender dysphoria.”
Bearden, who lost her brother to suicide, considered ending her life as well.
“I would lean on cycling more and mountain biking more,” she said. “Eventually I got to a point in my mid 20s where I was all about it. Cycling was it.”
“It’s so tough and you just want to take your life because that seems more simpler,” she said. “You don’t want to come out and share with the world who you truly are because you’re afraid of what society says, what your work says, what sports says.”
Married with two children, Bearden credits the support of her family for giving her courage to start hormone replacement therapy. Now, under the new guidelines of USA Cycling, Bearden is permitted to race as a female this year.
“They rewrote the old rules, which stated you have to have SRS–sex reassignment surgery–and be post-op for two years and then you could compete internationally,” Bearden said.
Since Bearden worked with USA Cycling and helped coach aspiring Olympic athletes, there was already training data documenting her performance before the hormone replacement therapy.
“So much data has been done for years to allow the IOC [International Olympic Committee] to look at these policies a little deeper and come up with scientific ways,” Bearden said. “That’s why I’m here–to make it fair as possible.”
Noah Collins is an endurance coach at Carmichael Training Systems, where Bearden is conducting performance testing.
“We already know what the numbers of a male and female look like,” Collins said. “We haven’t really done this before on a transgender athlete.”
While Bearden’s doctor can compare new testosterone levels to make sure they’re within the typical female levels, Carmichael looks at the physical performance. Bearden has seen an 11 percent drop off in speed and strength, which is the typical range between ordinary male and female athletes.
The international community, including the Olympic Committee, is following Bearden’s testing closely.
Last month, Bearden took part in the 106-mile El Tour De Tucson race in Arizona, along with thousands of other riders. It was a milestone race for Bearden, who won her first race as a female. Once news broke that she is transgender, questions loomed about the fairness of the win.
“You have to play by the rules,” she said. “You’re going into the other gender, and they’re skeptical. We don’t want to screw this up. Who wants to go into a race and know you don’t fall in line with the policy given?”
Since the victory, Bearden has received an outpouring of support from around the world.
“That’s what keeps me going. I get messages every day, from the United Kingdom to Mexico,” Bearden said. “I’ve received messages saying ‘I didn’t know you could compete as trans athlete. I’m making an appointment tomorrow.’”
Bearden hopes to inspire others with her courage.
“I hope I can inspire others and ultimately have my work help save a life,” she said.
Just last week, Bearden started an all-transgender team. She has athletes interested from around the nation. At least two sponsors have climbed on board already, too. More information can be found at tnwcteam.com/.