After the IOC released their new guidelines in 2016, Jillian approached USA Cycling to find out what their policy was and asked for assistance in changing her license. The question was, where do you put her? While she was certainly not as fast as she was as a male, had she entered as a cat 4 female, she would have dominated the competition, and that’s not fair, either. (Before hormone therapy, she had a men’s cat 1 mountain bike license.) USA Cycling considered her case, asked her to start with road cycling, and granted her a cat 2 license.
USA Cycling works with athletes who have transitioned to get them in a category where they will be competitive.
Jillian provided me with some pre and post transition times to some of the local benchmarks in Colorado Springs.
Cheyenne Canyon: 16:14 and 21:08 (77% difference)
Gold Camp Road: 15:50 and 19:20 (82% difference)
The Incline: 23:38 and 27:45 (85% difference)
Jillian has lost anywhere from 15% to 22% in performance on these particular benchmarks. Comparing the USA Cycling Hill Climb National Championship male and female winners, there was an 82% difference in time. (1:10:13 vs 1:25:26). Jillian’s time was 1:46:23.
Once she had a USA Cycling racing license, Jillian didn’t just want to race, she wanted to be a part of a team that races. Jillian was introduced to Rachel Beisel, a founder of the Naked Women’s Racing team here in Colorado. Jillian raced with Rachel’s husband, Kalan Beisel, a professional cyclist, about a decade ago.
When asked about her reaction when she found out Jillian was transgender, Rachel replied:
I thought about it for about 3 minutes acknowledging what makes her unique, and then haven’t thought about it since then really. I’ve done a bit of research for my own curiosity but also having coworkers who are also transgender, I think I wasn’t very surprised. I’ve only ever known Jillian as a woman. I never would have known she was transgender had she not said anything. I am very happy she decided to join our team, and we wanted to promote anything that she was comfortable with about her journey.
Jillian seems to have found a very supportive team.
I’m sure there are still some women on the team who don’t know Jillian is transgender. I’d say our team is very accepting. We’ve shared some stories of her journey on Facebook and in our groups and they always get positive engagement. No one has had an issue or brought it to our attention. We all do a really good job of supporting each other. That’s in our code of conduct to do so.
I am very happy that big brands are now accepting and promoting transgender athletes. It’s a big step forward and if it can help motivate a young child going through a hard time, then please do more to put transgender people in the spotlight! Sports and competition is a natural antidepressant. Why take that away from someone who is already having a hard enough time convincing society that they deserve every bit of rights that the next person has.
Being part of a women’s team helped Jillian accomplish one of her ambitions/dreams as a kid; compete as a female and be accepted as a part of that team.
What do her teammates think about it? One teammate, who has been with Naked for three years, says this.
I was happy to know that I am a part of a team that is so open and supportive. We have over 50 women on the team and I don’t know everyone personally but the women I know and interact with have been all very supportive and I have not seen anyone have any issues with Jillian being transgender.
This was my first first-hand experience interacting with a transgender athlete. I imagine they face many challenges in everyday life from work place to relationships or any daily activity, so I am sure getting clearance from USA Cycling was just another challenge. At this level of amateur bike racing, we race because we love the sport and we are extremely passionate about it, so I completely understand why one would take on this challenge on top of dealing with other things in life that to others may seem more important and vital to everyday survival.
Jillian’s history of trying to help others who are going through tough life situations hasn’t stopped with the Ride to Save a Suicide. She is co-founder of a new cycling team specifically for transgender women, the Trans National Women’s Cycling Team. “The sport of cycling has literally saved the lives of several of our members as we have struggled to achieve acceptance in our roles and in our communities. Rather than succumb to the struggles and challenges we face as transwomen, each cyclist has instead chosen a path of resilience, strength, tenacity, love, and civil stewardship. We ride for one another and for our nation as fully engaged examples of the power and beauty of being our authentic selves.”
Jillian would not be competing had the IOC not made new guidelines for male to female transgender athletes. It has given her that physiological measurement to let her know she is fairly competing against other women. As other athletes, especially those who like to compete, know, being able to race does something special for the person, for their soul. And for that she is extremely grateful.