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‘We just wanna run’: Why marathons should include a gender non-binary category, says this athlete

When thousands of runners from around the world take to the streets of New York for the TCS New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, it will be the second time the race allowed entrants to register in a gender non-binary division — and the first time that a cash prize of $5,000 will be awarded to the winner of that category.

NYC's race is not the only one seeing such change. In 2023, both the Boston and London marathons will provide a division for non-binary runners. And for Cal Calamia, a non-binary runner who also identifies as "transmasculine," the move means they will get to compete in their true identity.

“We're choosing to run in this category because it's what feels authentic for us, and everyone deserves to have that experience of authenticity when they're doing things that they love," Calamia tells Yahoo Life.

On Oct. 9, Calamia, 26, competed and placed second in the non-binary category at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. It was the first time the race offered the new category, and of the 40,000 runners who registered, about 70 signed up to run as non-binary.

Calamia grew up outside of Chicago and previously ran the marathon twice as a woman. Back in college, Calamia identified as a lesbian and competed as a Division 1 cross country athlete, but say they struggled with identity and body image. “My relationship with running was just kind of tainted by my confusion and uncertainty about my own gender and some unhealthy dynamics on the team, like around eating and weight,” says Calamia.

After moving to San Francisco, they began their transition in 2019. As Calamia started to notice changes in their body, they also began to get more excited about entering marathons. Racing, it turned out, helped them to connect deeper to their body and self-identity.

(Photo: Via Instagram @calcalamia)
Cal Calamia. (Photo: Via Instagram @calcalamia)

"It's this one thing that's been stable and been constant. I know I can just put my shoes on and go for a run, that's always there for me. And the way that my body moves when I'm going for a run, that's not gonna change," says Calamia. "I think running has been really lifesaving for me and being a part of this movement to push organizations and races to be more inclusive has helped me."

They say that returning to Chicago was like merging the past with their present.

“I was back in Chicago before I started transitioning, that was kind of one life. And now I have my life in California. I have transitioned and [am] living as a truer form of myself, so being able to see those two worlds merge in Chicago was very exciting,” says the athlete.

Last July, Calamia became the first runner to win the non-binary category at the San Francisco marathon. As planning for that race began, event organizers reached out to Calamia who consulted on the non-binary category and helped to ensure that all runners felt included. Calamia also won the non-binary category at San Francisco's Bay to Breakers, a popular 12k race held every May.

These wins reflect Calamia’s athleticism, and their ongoing drive to get more races to add a non-binary category. Traditionally, races allow participants to register as male or female, but there have been ongoing conversations about where trans and non-binary runners should be allowed to compete.

In the U.S., there are currently 200 road races that offer three gender categories when runners register for a race. Calamia says the non-binary option is inclusive, empowering and encourages runners to show up authentically.

“Having this non-binary category is kind of a way to acknowledge that not everyone is a man or a woman, and for some folks that feels really confusing. I like to just put it in the simplest term for myself. For the first 21 years of my life I was a girl, so I was confused about a lot of things. I was figuring a lot of things out, but that was my life experience. Now I'm often perceived as a man, I’m transmasculine,” says Calamia.

“The word 'non-binary' for me means I'm not either one of these two things. I'm both, I'm more than, I'm everything in between.”

Today, Calamia is focused on the road ahead. They have qualified, registered and plan to run the Boston marathon next April in the non-binary category. They are also working behind the scenes to help organizers retain the integrity of the race, while ensuring that the non-binary category is also equitable. Calamia is aware of debates about trans athletes competing at the collegiate and professional levels. They know that the gender revolution happening in this country can be confusing or scary for some people. Still, instead of judgment, Calamia urges people to approach these issues by first thinking about the people, not the politics.

“We deserve to be physically active and we deserve to prioritize our physical health in the same way as cisgender folks do,” says Calamia. “I'm not trying to take anything from you. None of us are trying to take anything from anyone. We just wanna run our race and get to feel connected with ourselves.”

—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove