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For trans athlete Chris Mosier, 'there's no just being a regular guy'

Javier Diaz Martos for ESPN

This year's International Triathlon Union Duathlon World Championship saw history made the weekend of June 4-5. Not in terms of speed, not because of a comeback. History was made in Aviles, Spain, because for the first time since the International Olympic Committee adopted new rules addressing the eligibility of transgender athletes, an out trans athlete competed in an IOC-regulated world championship event. Chris Mosier blazed this trail after years of work and competition, after earning a place on Team USA in 2015.

"There have been very few moments that I have been speechless, but when I got my Team USA kit in the mail and opened it up, that was definitely a moment where I had no words," Mosier says. "And I think that feeling, of being able to represent the country, as an athlete and as a person with a trans identity, is really important for me."

While this was a first for Mosier -- as well as for the world -- it won't be the last instance for either. There will be other out trans athletes, perhaps inspired by his example. Mosier, 35, already knows that he'll be back to compete at this level again in 2017, having qualified to return to Team USA in a May race held in one of the most trans-unfriendly places in the country: North Carolina.

"It was really important to go to North Carolina," Mosier says, "to not transfer out of that race, so that I could qualify for my second national team, in a place where people say that I shouldn't exist, or be safe."

That says something about who he is, but only a part. Here's a look at Mosier's time on the world stage in Aviles.

Game face

How do you capture who Chris Mosier is? The erect posture, shoulders back, the lithe, springy step that you associate with athletic dancers, that bit of poise that tells you this is a person with awareness of where they are, who they are and what they're doing. You might anticipate all of that. Now get a little closer. Driven. Blunt, direct. Affable. Someone who doesn't recoil from a challenge.

Did you put a gender to any of those qualities? If so, perhaps that's on you, perhaps on the habits of language, the ready association some might assign to words.

But make no mistake about who Chris Mosier is: He's an athlete. He's a man. And he's in Spain as a member of Team USA to compete for the world championship in his sport, the duathlon, and make history in the process.

Immediate setback

The logistics of hopping an ocean to race in a world championship meant handing off Mosier's bike. Even stowed in a hard case, that's two flights and luggage handlers of varying levels of consideration in three different countries while bouncing from New York through London to get to the snoozy Asturias airport in Spain. All sorts of things might go wrong, and two days before he is to compete, Mosier unpacks his bike at his motel outside Aviles to find it has been lightly damaged.

"I had some concern about bringing my bike, because I don't like to take it apart," Mosier says. "I don't like to pack it. So there is this moment, this reveal, but it's not really a sense of panic. It's like, whatever happens, I'll figure it out. So if the skewer is bent -- which it was -- then I figure out how to take care of it."

Coming up with a plan means asking for an assist. "Javier (the photographer) said he saw a guy who was in the race, probably, a couple doors down [in the motel]," Mosier says. "So we went over and asked if he had any tools, and he came right over to take a look at it. It's very typical of the multisport community that people are good to other racers."

Share the road

Thanks to his motel neighbor's aid, Mosier's bike is fixed in time to dodge traffic during a ride into Aviles, which is nestled in a narrow river valley. The mission? Rallying up at Team USA's hotel to do a group ride across the racecourse, followed by a team briefing before that night's opening ceremonies. All of that, with the added benefit of a test ride to make sure his bike is good to go.

"The team ride was really good. It was pretty cool to walk up to the team hotel and see everybody outside, and see most people had their USA jacket or kit on," Mosier says. "The course seems like a lot of fun. It's cool because at the top of the bike course, you go through some really small streets in a very neighborhood-y area, where it just feels very old and rich with history. It's a very cool way to see a new place, to be on bike or to be on foot. Doing a run in new places is one of my favorite ways to see a city."

Quiet before the race

A thin sun, a gray Saturday morning and a threat of rain as clouds congeal in the coastal mountains. Asturias is cool in June, with temps in the high 60s or low 70s. The biggest task of the day is hours off: Mosier has to deliver his bike for its inspection and deployment in the race's transition area.

Now, Mosier can fill the intervening time playing tourist before the race. Visiting the "Eulogy to the Horizon" sculpture on a bluff above Gijon, overlooking the Bay of Biscay, the sounds of the surf amplified by its structure, Mosier could contemplate the next day's challenge. "My expectation is to see what my body gives me," he says. "So I'm going to go out, and do the very best that I can do. I feel very well prepared, I feel good, I feel fit, I feel fast. I'll do my best, and control what I can control."

A vegetarian's quest

Fending off jet lag is a big enough deal for anybody after their first transatlantic flight. But imagine doing it in time to be race-ready for an international championship just 60 hours after arrival. That was just one of the inescapable challenges for Mosier while competing at the highest level of his sport for the first time.

The Chicago native also had to deal with an even more basic challenge: fueling up in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.

Between the seafood-heavy menus and the meat dishes that draw tourists to Asturias, Spain wasn't the easiest venue for Mosier, a practicing vegetarian. And the first restaurant chosen after landing had run out of most vegetables. Mosier had to adapt fast, hitting the streets to shop around and get his carb load before the big race.

"Finding food has been hard," Mosier says. "Spain has not been the most friendly place for me to eat, and I think that has been a little challenging. I think maybe in the future, if I was to do it, I would get here a day earlier."

Having already qualified to race at this level again in 2017, he'll get to act on that.

Bike delivery

It's finally Mosier's window to deliver his bike at Team USA's hotel so it can be inspected and then placed overnight in the transition area on the racecourse. That's the tricky part of any duathlon or triathlon course, the place where he'll have to switch midrace from runner to cyclist and back again with a 20.55-kilometer ride bracketed by an initial 5K run and a final 2.5-kilometer sprint to the finish. It's also going to be Mosier's first exposure to draft-legal racing in competition, where racers can try to exploit the wind resistance created by racers in the lead.

"The person at the front definitely does the most work," Mosier says. "I don't know whatever percent of the workload is off of them, but I think it becomes more a game of strategy and positioning, than of just straight-up doing the work yourself, like my qualifying race was to get here."

Athletic gathering

Ushered through the streets of Aviles by ranks of Asturian bagpipers and cheering crowds, Team USA takes its place in the town square during the opening ceremonies on Friday. Can you spot the trans American, the trans athlete, the one who's supposed to be different? Consider this one of the powers of sports, one that embodies the USA's founding motto, e pluribus unum -- "out of many, one." Mosier excelled as an individual athlete to achieve not just speed on the field of play, but simple inclusion on it, one American man among dozens of Americans with that same goal, to get to this day, this race.

Draft system

Pedaling his way in traffic, Mosier is owning his moment. He goes into the race with a complete sense of the responsibility he carries as a trailblazer in sports -- and the unavoidable visibility that goes with it.

"I think there have definitely been moments in my athletic career where I just wanted to be another guy on a team -- and not always be the trans athlete. But I made a decision, very early in my transition and in my athletic career as a trans person, to be out, to be public about it," he says. "That's a one-ton decision now because once it's on the internet, it never goes away. There's no just being a regular guy for me.

"So when I made that decision, to be out, to be public, it was very much in the idea that I didn't see any other guys competing at a high level after a medical transition, competing with men. And I thought, people should see that. And by people seeing me, that will impact their ability or their confidence to continue to play sports. And it's up to them, whether or not they want to be out as a trans athlete.

"For many reasons, it's not safe or comfortable for people to be out, and that's a personal decision. It's not something that should be expected. We have plenty of trans athletes out there, playing, who are not out, and some who are out. There are a lot of people out there making history right now, and they just may not be as public as I am."

Finding a coach

Mosier dons his helmet to get going on the cycling leg of the race. As he became more competitive within the sport, Mosier made one big move to gear up for Aviles: He sought a coach to help him on the cycling side of things. Unfortunately, not everyone was ready to work with a transgender athlete, even though he'd both qualified to compete and was no longer prohibited from doing so as a result of the IOC's recent rules changes.

"I'm very fortunate to be working with Matt Dixon of purplepatch Fitness. He is a phenomenal coach," says Mosier, who has lived in New York the past 10 years with his wife, Zhen. "I'd been looking for a coach for probably about a month. I'd heard back from some folks, mostly cycling-specific folks who would coach duathlon. A couple of the professional coaches I reached out to flat-out said no."

"They can't say things specifically," Mosier says of the rejections he has faced, "but it's clear in how they handle the response or nonresponse to certain information I give them. It didn't really surprise me because that's been my experience also with getting sponsorship or support, that I have flat-out had companies say, 'We can't have someone like you represent our company.' ... While they're not saying what someone like me is, they're sending a pretty clear message. And there have been a couple cases like that, where in all other regards I would be a very good fit for the company, but their values don't align with my identity. Which stings a little bit but, also at this point, doesn't surprise me."

The run of a lifetime

The race has started Sunday morning, and Mosier is pounding the pavement. He never had any doubt that this is where he would be this day, even though he wasn't technically eligible when he initially made Team USA in the summer of 2015.

"For the IOC policy, I maybe felt that a little bit longer because it was June when I first started asking, as soon as I made the team, 'Will I be able to play? What's the policy going to be?' And it was months before there was any sort of clear answer," Mosier says. "And I needed to get lawyers and things like that. But even throughout that process, I told everyone, 'I am confident that I will be at the starting line.' That there's no way this policy can stay this way because now there's an athlete with a name and a face who's being challenged by this policy. And it's very clear to see that it's not helpful for anyone, and it's something that needs to change.

"I had faith that I would be here, but there was still the holdup of being able to register, and book the flight, and book the hotel, because up until January, the answer was 'no.'"

USA!

History has been made, and Mosier hits the finish line, finishing second among the American men in his age group and 144th among 434 competitors across all age groups.

"It was interesting to be at the finish line and to have you (the writer) there, and the photographers there, and to have a Spanish journalist interview me at the finish line," Mosier says. "And my teammates were asking what that's about. So I told them my story: I told them that I'm the first trans athlete to be here. I think that was kind of an interesting moment with them because I had the anonymity before that. I was just a teammate before that."

One of the guys

Now that the race is over, Mosier can cool down and reflect with his teammates, including sometime rival racer and fellow New Yorker Benjamin Green (right).

"I don't get the sense that people are focused on the history part," Mosier says on the significance of being the first transgender man to compete in a world championship. "I very much feel validated as an athlete, and it's not really come up as validation as a man, except maybe in the sense that my male teammates are talking to me like another athlete."

And that's the point, that Mosier didn't simply earn this opportunity or finally get to race once the IOC updated its policies to acknowledge the reality of many trans people in sports. Nor is it just about the fact that he raced and finished and thus done something valuable for all trans athletes and all trans people. Beyond delivering on that privilege, he also collected something more basic, and more valuable: the earned sense of belonging that only excellence makes possible, but only your fellow competitors, Mosier's fellow men, can truly acknowledge. That's an earned benefit from an earned opportunity, something sports offers every athlete.