In recent weeks, there has been much debate online about the participation of transgender athletes in women's sport, with Emily Bridges set to compete as a woman at the National Omnium Championships this weekend. In this opinion piece, Jackie Aspden explains what it was like to go through the transition process as a British Cycling member.
"I started to transition in 2016, and British Cycling accepted my change of name and gender without question. I also continued in my role as a mountain bike commissaire, volunteering my time to oversee events and make sure risk assessments are in place amongst other things.
I’m in my 70s now, and in my former life I had been a teacher for 24 years followed by a similar length of time as a partner in a cycle retail business. I then got involved with mountain bike racing and events like the Polaris Challenge. I was a member of the mountain bike race organisation NAMBS (Northern Area Mountain Biking Series) in the nineties, and two of us managed the 2002 Commonwealth Games mountain bike event.
When I decided to transition, I had to explain to several riders who had known me for years, but all were supportive. I no longer compete due to an apparent scare involving my pulse rate, but through my transition I was still competing in mountain bike orienteering, a sport in its own right affiliated to British Orienteering. The national committee couldn't have been more helpful, and allowed me to compete as a woman having self-certified that my testosterone level had dropped from 34.6 to 0.3.
Initially the ladies were worried that I would still be able to ride at my former level, but we all realised very soon that the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) were considerable. My strength and stamina diminished greatly, but luckily my GP was an endurance runner, and he gave me plenty of advice on revising my approach to events. Having gone from being the men's over 70 national league champion, to needing to stop at a picnic table to eat and drink mid-event was mind-blowing. It took ages to match my strategy for competing in the events to my reduced ability.
After undergoing zero depth gender affirmation surgery last June, I wasn’t actually able to ride for around ten weeks. The first time was accidental in that during one of the sessions for disabled people to cycle around a running track (I’m the lead volunteer) I grabbed a bike to help a user on the far side of the track. Then followed a period of bike modifications to adapt to my revised anatomy.
A friend suggested that I perhaps join some British Cycling Breeze rides to gradually increase fitness once more. I don’t use Strava that much, but my uploads tell me I’ve covered over 400 miles since my surgery, and I’m starting to ride off-road again. I have been made extremely welcome by my local women’s cycling group.
I can’t say that dealing with British Cycling has been easy over the years, and we differ on our concept of leadership skills on the Breeze rides; but even so, throughout all of my communications with them, no mention was ever made of my transgender status. Perhaps being in my seventies and having fought the dysphoria for many years caused fewer worries.
I was accepted by the ladies in the events I took part in, and was frequently encouraged by them. So please, sports governing bodies - research the effects of HRT very carefully, and consult people who have actually experienced the changes, not just the opinions of former athletes."