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Visual impaired woman wants to be first trans athlete

Valentina Petrillo running
Valentina Petrillo running Image credit: bbc.co.uk

An athlete with vision loss is planning to become the first transgender competitor in the Paralympic Games.

Runner Valentina Petrillo, who was diagnosed with stargardt disease at the age of 14, took part in the men’s national races before transitioning in 2019.

"I'm happy as a woman and running as a woman is all I want. I couldn't ask for more," she told the BBC.

"I've got a fire inside me that pushes me. An emotional strength. Obviously, my body's not what it was at 20 when I was at my peak, but my happiness pushes me to go further, to go beyond my limits."

The 47-year-old said they went years ‘dressing up as a man’ until coming out to their wife and started living as a woman whilst taking hormone therapy.

Petrillo has now won her first race as a woman at the Italian Paralympics Championship and is hoping to be accepted in Italy’s Paralympic team.

The 2015 International Olympic Committee’s guidelines state any trans athlete can participate in a women’s race providing they have a low testosterone level for a year with a reading of less than 5nmol/L (nanomoles per litre). 

Petrillo reading is below 2 nmol/L so she meets the requirements to compete in the games, but leading sportswomen argue it is unfair for trans women athlete to sign up for national and global sporting tournaments because they have a greater bone strength, muscle density and lung capacity.

The Italian Athletics Federation have launched a petition to stop Valentina taking part in the games.

The organiser said: 'Her physical superiority is so evident as to make competition unfair.’

Responding to the federation’s concerns Petrillo argued: 'I understand the doubts but I do not think I have an advantage.

'My performances have dropped mercilessly.'        

Valentina first put on women’s clothing at the age of nine after finding her mother’s dress in a cupboard.

'It was an incredible emotion. It was like touching heaven with your finger tip,' she said.

'Until four years ago, if you'd talked to Fabrizio [the name Petrillo was given at birth], Fabrizio would have given you the idea he was sexist. He was a tough guy who'd speak dismissively of women and then be a woman in his private space.’

When she was in her 40s Valentina told her wife she was transgender.

Remember the day in 2017 when she finally came out to her partner Valentina said:  'I hadn't planned it. I was in bed with my wife, about to fall asleep, and I said, "Remember I told you I once dressed up as a woman?" She said yes. I said, "In reality it wasn't once, I do it every day."'

In a previous interview Petrillo hoped her story will inspire LGBTQ+ athletes in years to come.

'I'd like to be talked about for my sporting results rather than for who I am,' she said. 'I hope to win the race, shake hands with the other girls on the podium and receive a beautiful bouquet of flowers.'

The 2021 Pride in London event will take place on the weekend of September 11.