Levi Spaniolo hopes his story encourages others to accept their gender identity
Last year, junior track and cross-country athlete Levi Spaniolo came out as the college’s first transgender athlete.
“I came out on April 3rd of last year, at exactly 4:05 p.m. I remember that because I was so nervous coming out to my teammates,” he said. “There obviously were a lot of questions, and there were a few of my teammates who asked questions because it is a learning process. But they are absolutely wonderful.”
Before coming out, Spaniolo talked to his coaches, who encouraged him to do what he felt was right with his transition. He said the past year has been hectic for him in the sport because of having a health problem and dealing with problems at home.
“One of my coaches last year came up to me and asked if I was planning on going on hormones anytime soon,” he said. “Apparently, he knew someone who was going through a change and was just curious. It was from that point that I realized that this is my year to be my authentic self and true to who I am.”
Athletic Director Kerry Prather said Franklin College does not have a specific policy regarding transgender athletes.
“We follow the guidelines set by the NCAA,” Prather said. “They have a certain policy in place for athletes based on their transition. They set the standard for what we do with each individual case.”
The NCAA’s rules on “trans eligibility” vary due to the type of transition. The NCAA states, “A trans male (female to male) student-athlete who is not taking testosterone related to gender transition may participate on a men’s or women’s team, while a trans female (male to female) transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatments related to gender transition may not compete on a women’s team.”
Spaniolo is choosing not to take hormones because of prior health problems involving his legs which keep him from being able to compete on the men’s team.
“I want to get my legs figured out first because I have Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome,” he said. “It would be my dream to run on the men’s team, but the men run a different length of race, and because of my legs it’s better for me to run the shorter distance.”
In cross-country races men’s teams run almost five miles and women’s teams run a little more than three miles. Spaniolo said the health condition his legs start to feel numb after two miles and would make it harder for him to run the longer distance.
Spaniolo hopes that his coming out can help others with their struggles accepting their gender identity.
“Make sure that you have a support system,” he said. “Most importantly, you need to know yourself and have a basic love for yourself before anything else, because if someone brings you down, you need to have a tough skin and know no matter what they say that you are worth it.”