Anthony will be presenting in the ACB Virtual Exhibit Booth happening July 12 13. Watch for upcoming information.
And now, today’s post.
How I Got to Compete
By Tony Candela
A recent article about transgender athletes focusing on Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania, caught my attention. Lia is a high caliber swimmer who has transitioned from a male body to a female one, including (required) testosterone suppression. The questions are still debated, including whether transgender females still retain enough male advantage to make it unfair for them to compete against other women. (As far as I can tell, no one complains about possible male disadvantage when they have converted from a female body.)
A comment by an International Olympic Committee researcher caused something to stir within me. He mentioned that transgender females are not generally winning across the board, possibly because there are other elements such as heavier muscle mass in an otherwise mostly female body holding them back. This caused me to dig into memory and then into a memoir I wrote about life lessons learned as a blind athlete. There I found the resonating string, still gently vibrating. It is from a time I competed as a triathlete. But first some thoughts on not so much the transgender issue, but a mixed-gender one.
I am no expert, just a former athlete, predominantly a wrestler and long-distance runner and for a few years, someone who ran short triathlon races. Wrestling, as you might imagine, provides quite the intimate experience with bodies. It involves arms and legs wrapped around and pushing and pulling on pretty much all parts of an opponent’s body. Massive amounts of strength and energy are expended. In a split-second, one gets to know the physical capabilities of his opponent. If a wrestler is not so in tune, he will be quickly overcome and spend lots of time extricating himself from the leverage, weight, and general mauling the opponent is attempting to inflict upon him. By the way, the rules are enforced to prevent pain, but not discomfort. In this scenario, one would most likely know if the opponent is a male or female.
While I cannot comment on swimming, running, and other athletics, I do have a thought about a modern phenomenon: Boys and girls wrestling against each other in certain high school competitions. I only know of the practice among schools for the blind which “field” mixed-gender wrestling teams. Perhaps the practice is more widespread than I know; perhaps because they are small, schools for the blind have difficulty assembling complete boy’s and girl’s teams; perhaps there are sufficiently robust girls in their weight-classes to successfully compete against boys; or perhaps the notion of gender differences is less sharp if one puts disability into the mix. In any case, I am definitely squeamish about the practice. As mentioned above, wrestling is quite the intimate endeavor. There are sets of moves involving parts of the arm in contact with the crotch and it is almost impossible to avoid the chest area, especially when applying most pinning combinations which requires the shoulder-blades to be pressed to the mat for two seconds for a pin to be called by the referee. So, I say let girls compete against girls and boys against boys and as for transgender people, if they are far enough along in their bodily transition, let them compete in their gender category. Continue to monitor the winning rates to see how, on balance, things turn out.
Now to my resonating string. When I signed up for my first New York Central Park triathlon in the late 1980s, I arrived with a riding/running partner and a tandem bicycle. The race official was unexpectedly open-minded and kind, allowing me to enter the race once I explained to her how I would swim in the pool which had roped-off lanes, be escorted by my riding partner to the tandem bicycle, and run using a rope “tether” in mine and my running partner’s hands.
“’As long as you don’t win the race,’ she quipped, ‘no one will mind your tandem.’ I assured her my [relatively poor] swimming and running skills would more than offset any advantage I might have riding a bicycle built for two. Since I had apparently been green lighted by [race] officials, on race morning, my competitors expressed only curiosity about the tandem and sincere wishes of good luck, never questioning my right to be there.
Anthony R. Candela, Author
Saying aloud what should not remain silent.
Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy
A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports
Vision Dreams: A Parable
A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.
Christian Faith Publishing, 2019
Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar. Read more at