I’m a female collegiate athlete fighting for the future of women’s sports

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I can take a few bumps and bruises. After all, I signed up for this. Playing college sports is a privilege, not a right. Losing sleep, missing classes because you’re traveling, taking care of sore muscles and maintaining a strict training regimen — they’re all part of the game when you’re a collegiate track and cross-country athlete. 

But what I signed up for was running against similarly advantaged competitors — other women. What I have experienced, and seen repeated across the nation, is a different story, and it’s why I’m speaking out. 

FEMALE SKATEBOARDER SPOKE OUT ON TRANS COMPETITOR FOR HER FUTURE DAUGHTERS

I was born into a family of college athletes in Ohio and ran my first race at the age of 5. Running has had my heart ever since. In high school, I was a three-time All-Ohioan for cross-country and six-time track All-Ohioan. 

The allure of the West drew me to Southern Utah University and, after meeting the track coach and the girls on the team, I fell in love with my new family away from home. 

Madisan DeBos at the Stanford Invite at Stanford University, April 2022.

I’m heading into my senior year at Southern Utah and run cross-country and track in the fall, winter, and spring, specializing in events including the 1,500m, 3k steeplechase, and 5k. Competing at this level takes every ounce of your dedication and energy, but it is so rewarding to play the sport you love. 

At my time here at SUU, I, along with my teammates, have set the school record in the distance medley relay. At the 2022 Big Sky Outdoor Track and Field Championships, I scored in the 3k steeplechase and 5,000-meter run. This year I was also able to break into the top-10 list in the 1,500m and 5k, as well as reach into the top five in the 3k steeplechase. 

I wake up every day excited that I’m able to run, and that I have the privilege of training my body to become stronger and faster. I also now realize the fragility of fair competition and how easily it can be taken away from female athletes. 

One day at practice during my freshman year, our coach told us that another team in our conference had an athlete who had previously competed on the men’s team who now identified as female and would be competing against us. This biological male runner had posted the same time in the 1,500-meter as the fastest woman in the world in that event — 3:50. Now, it was my teammates and I who were being forced to compete against someone who had already broken the female record. 

Madisan DeBos (center) at the Bob Larsen Invite at UCLA, March 2022.

Madisan DeBos (center) at the Bob Larsen Invite at UCLA, March 2022.

At the indoor Big Sky Championships in 2020, I started the distance medley relay for our team, and the biological male runner anchored the relay for the University of Montana. That’s when we heard the athlete’s coach say something no one expected to hear: “Slow down.” 

Slow down to give the appearance of a fair fight, I suppose. But we watched as this athlete went on to take first place in the mile — replacing a female runner on the podium. 

When you show up at a conference meet and see a biological male athlete towering over you, way more muscular and with a completely different build than any female on the starting blocks, it is at first surprising. Then, quickly, disheartening and even heartbreaking. How do I stand a chance, despite my nearly two decades of training for this moment?

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My teammates and I have been working so hard to be in this program, and we realize all of that could be stripped away by allowing biologicial males to compete in our sport. We talked a lot about what this meant for us personally and for women’s sports generally. I felt powerless. It was gut-wrenching that no one was stopping such an obviously unfair advantage or standing up for us. 

How much longer will we see women stand at the top of the podium in their own sport’s competition? 

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The only way to maintain a fair and level playing field and preserve the future of women’s sports is to protect separate categories for men and women (something that used to be common sense now bears repeating over and over). We cannot lose the ground women have gained in the fight for equal access and opportunity — wins my mother and so many others fought to make a reality. Personally, I’m not going to wait until one more woman loses a spot before I speak out on this devastating reality. 

I can take a few bumps and bruises along the way to fight for the future of women’s sports. I am doing this so that all the other girls like me who love to run can follow their dreams and experience the thrill of being rewarded for their hard work and dedication. 

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