Twenty-seven-year-old marathon runner and inclusivity activist Cal Calamia made history when he became the first transgender person to win the New York City Marathon in the race's nonbinary division, established in 2021.
Calamia, who goes by "he" and "they" pronouns, has played a significant role in establishing nonbinary categories at several major races, including the San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston Marathons.
"The first time that I ran a marathon, I ran in the female division," Calamia said. "And then I started transitioning and realized there wasn't really a space for people like me to continue to run."
That realization led Calamia to push for nonbinary divisions to be added to races worldwide.
"The first time I ever ran in a nonbinary division was just the best feeling," Calamia said. "It was just such an emotionally overwhelming experience to be able to be myself and do the thing that I love and feel like that wasn't being called into question."
But that historic change came with some challenges. For example, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) told Calamia he could potentially be disciplined for using testosterone, a prohibited drug for runners competing in USA Track & Field-governed events.
Calamia and other trans-masculine people use testosterone as a part of their gender-affirming hormone treatment.
According to long-distance runner, LGBTQ+ rights advocate and Philadelphia Pride Run co-founder C.C. Tellez, the USADA's decision to question Calamia's eligibility demonstrates a need for increased awareness and inclusion in competitive running spaces.
"Transgender and nonbinary athletes are not new. They've always been present in every aspect of our life," Tellez said. "And it's never been an issue until folks decided to make it an issue. I think that it just speaks to the political environment that we're in right now."
As it turned out, just two days before the Chicago Marathon, Calamia was informed by the USADA that a therapeutic use exemption had been granted, allowing him to compete in male, nonbinary, and open categories at all USA Track & Field-governed events.
"I felt so happy," Calamia said, "I just felt like this extremely heavy weight had been lifted, and it just made me feel so optimistic about my future again, that I could continue to run and continue to do my sport and continue to show up and inspire people."
Calamia won the New York City Marathon in the nonbinary division in a time of 2:48:46.
"I think younger generations, they are looking for that person that mirrors them, that they can see out in the podium, that they can cheer and root for," Tellez said. "So I think that representation, that visibility, is just going to influence the next generation of runners to say, 'That could be me one day.'"
Watch the historic moment in the video above when this transgender runner finds out he's in first place at the New York City Marathon.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Runner makes history in the NYC Marathon's nonbinary division