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Chicago native Mosier transitions into triathlon star
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2013-11-20

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Chris Mosier ran around as a youngster, even until age 14 while living in northwest suburban Lake Zurich, but admittedly never was a runner. Mosier opted for team sports instead, especially after a failed stint in cross-country while in junior high. "I wasn't very good," Mosier said.

Mosier played volleyball, basketball and softball, and then intramural sports while at Northern Michigan University.

"I ran for fitness, but never really enjoyed it," Mosier said. "It wasn't until after college that I started to run a little more seriously."

Serious enough to run the 2008 Chicago Marathon, Mosier's first time tackling a 26.2-mile race.

"After that, I looked for a new challenge," said Mosier, who signed on as a volunteer for the Nautica New York City Triathlon, which meant Mosier got an entry into the following year's event.

"Since I was signed up, I had to learn how to swim and get a bike, and see if I like triathlons," Mosier said, laughing.

Mosier completed that 2009 tri.

"Back in high school, I never imagined I'd be doing triathlons. I never was a swimmer or serious cyclist. Plus, the sport is really body-conscious; you're wearing spandex and swim gear. I was too uncomfortable to even consider," based on the clothing needed, Mosier said.

Though Mosier's sporting life was taking off, it was his personal life that was an issue.

"I had been thinking about transition for two or three years, but was hesitating because I had a lot of fear about how people around me would react. What would happen at work? What would happen with my family? What would happen as an athlete, especially since at that time, I was having pretty good success in my races?" Mosier said. "As a competitive person, I thought … if I stayed in the female [division], I may have the opportunity to move up to elite status, perhaps to win races, but was kind of worried that transitioning would set me back in terms of my performance and my [ability] to compete against men."

Mosier debated until 2010, but ultimately started taking testosterone in June of that year.

Mosier had, though, been asking family and friends to use male pronouns as of September 2009.

"I did not know any transgender people when I was growing up. In fact, [trans] wasn't even in my vocabulary; it wasn't part of my understanding of gender, probably not until after college. I was kind of late to the game in transition, so there was a lot of self-discovery after college leading up to my transition.

"My biggest fear was, how others would perceive me. I always knew it was the right thing for me to do. I just had a fear of how others would react. Once I got over that fear, it really freed me to be myself, to be authentic in my own identity."

The questions were endless in Mosier's mind: "Am I going to be able to compete on a team and [have teammates] accept me? Am I going to be safe in my workplace and have people respect my identity? Are my friends and family going to be understanding with this process with me?"

Mosier's fears never materialized.

Mosier, 32, now lives in New York City, and has for the past eight years. He works in higher education at the college level and is happily married to his wife of 11 years, Zhen Heinemann, also a Chicago native who he met after college.

Mosier is now recovering from a fractured clavicle, suffered in a cycling accident this past May, which wiped out his 2013 race season. He was planning to do a full triathlon over the summer, and pushing for elite status in the Nautica New York City Triathlon.

Instead, it's regular physical therapy and watching the calendar until his next race—in January in Florida.

Mosier also is a tri coach for the Empire Tri Club in New York City, encouraging beginners to try tri, and more

Mosier's time away from the sport over the past few months has been, admittedly, "frustrating, but also a blessing of sorts," he said. "Often, as a serious athlete, I don't give enough time to recovery, but this has been a real good opportunity for me to really sync up with my body and take the time it really needs to recover.

"Last year, I probably would have been wildly depressed about [the injury and its recovery], but now, for whatever reason, I'm just in a better place. Plus, the support of my teammates has helped me mentally stay focused on recovery."

Mosier's teammates have always been by his side.

"As an athlete, your teammates are your family. I know my teammates have my back, and while triathlon is a pretty individual sport, having the team to train with their support means the world to me. I really enjoy the camaraderie that comes with having teammates," he said.

No issues since transitioning

Mosier said he had issues before transitioning, mostly because "I was an androgynous person, or a masculine-looking female at the start line with these women because the sport is sort of separated at the start line for many races," he said. "So, I'd go there with my age-group of women, and people would be looking at me and be like, what are you doing here? I felt I would have the same backlash if I was with the men at that point.

"So, a lot of issues I had were that I didn't feel like I was fitting in to my specific start [group]. Even race officials would question me."

Since transitioning, "I have not had a problem."

And everyone on Mosier's tri team "has been totally cool."

Mosier's tri team was one of the first places where he started to socially transition, and one of the places where he was most afraid.

"In team sports, even in LGBT leagues, I've had issues [in the past, mostly with] problematic language, such as people saying 'tranny,' or saying comments about my testosterone levels, or the way I play," he said. "But it's been a tremendously positive experience with my tri team."

Mosier has done exceptionally well in triathlons before and after transitioning which, he admitted, was not completely expected.

"I used to place in the top 10 of races, and since transitioning over the past two years, I've won my age-group a number of times; I've come in third in a race. I'm placing in the top three pretty consistently, which is an amazing feeling to me to know that I can still be competitive and that my hard work as an athlete is paying off," said Mosier, who competes in the extremely competitive 30-34 men's age group.

"I am now being as successful as I was before transition. I'm extremely proud of how I'm competing now because I didn't think it would be possible. I have exceeded my expectations as an athlete. One thing that hasn't changed is my drive and my desire to be the best I can be. In some ways I feel more motivated by the fact I have transitioned.

"No one had expectations that I'd do well, but I worked my ass off and dedicated myself completely to my training, to see what I'm really capable of. And I've been very pleased with my results."

Mosier is truly an award-winning triathlete.

He was named one of three finalists for the Compete Magazine's Athlete of the Year award in 2011, and was given an honorable mention by USA Triathlon for the 2011 USAT Spirit of Multisport Awards.

Mosier was named the 2013 Athlete of the Year for Compete Magazine, it was announced in mid-November.

"A big part of the reason I won [the USAT honor] was [because] I am a trans athlete and I really focus on bringing a voice for trans and queer into triathlon, and I don't really think there was a voice," Mosier said. "In the sport as a whole, sexuality is not really an issue, or it's not really talked about, and gender is not really an issue either. That's been kind of interesting for me. There are very few sports where the top female competitors are so close to the top male competitors. In Ironman races, there's not that large of a gap, and it's really awesome to see that women are sort of respected in the same way that men are respected in the sport.

"For me as a trans athlete, I've found that I've had very few issues in the sport, which has been really incredible because that hasn't been the case for me in team sports.

"I received the award, based on work done in the LGBT community, for the inclusion of trans athletes, and for policies and procedures that will help queer athletes participate."

Truly, the role-model label fits solidly on Mosier's shoulders—and he's proud to carry that title.

"I love the idea of being a role-model for young athletes," he said. "I knew no trans athletes before coming out, and that was part of the reason I delayed my transition.

"The idea of using my voice now to reach young athletes to let them know that, yes, you can play [sports] and still maintain your identity as an athlete and also still be true to yourself, and do whatever that means to you, [be it] identify as queer, or trans … it's really important for me to do that.

"I feel I can use my voice to help influence folks, to allow trans-participation, including adequate preparations for coaches and administrators to support trans athletes, and to let trans athletes know that they can participate and they can play."

To that, Mosier is launching a website: www.transathlete.com, a resource for students, coaches and administrators to find information about trans-includion in athletics at various levels of play.

"It will serve as a resource for everything trans and sports," Mosier said. "My goal is to compile all of the resources for players, coaches, teammates and allies, so everything is easily accessible and hopefully help continue the conversation on trans inclusion in sports because it really has become a topic in education.

"I think there really is a need for this resource."

Chicago trans sportswriter Christina Kahrl said Mosier is "the kind of role model our community deserves."

"He's an active athlete who has made no bones of the fact of who he was or who he is, and by being open, he's also showing the wider world how his fellow athletes feel about competing with and against trans athletes," Kahrl said. "The fact that he has received such tremendous support speaks to the very essence of sports: It's a vehicle of acceptance for athletes of every stripe, and because Chris has been accepted by so many others, that's an object lesson to everyone else."

The lesson, of course, is taught by Mosier the educator, who admittedly approaches things as an athlete and as an educator.

"My work in higher education has prepared me to help influence young people," Mosier said. "My hope is that young people can see me being successful, placing well in my competition and know that they too can, potentially, do it.

"When we're looking at eliminating homophobia and transphobia in sports, we're somewhat missing those transgender voices. We're getting more and more gay and lesbian athletes coming out, and then getting very good reception. But we're still missing that transgender voice. So, my hope is, by continuing to be competitive, speak to my competitors and my teammates, and be that voice."

Away from sports

Mosier said his wife has been "absolutely incredible, so supportive of my transition, knowing that this was the right thing for me to do."

Both now identify as queer, though they are now perceived as a straight couple, "which has sort of taken a little bit to get used to," Mosier said.

"She's fantastic and her family is amazing."

The two live with their three rabbits and plan to move back to Chicago, probably within the next five years or so.

"I am perceived as a straight white man now, and that took a lot of getting used to, going from an androgynous/queer female who was trying to be invisible because I was afraid of how people would treat me, to now," Mosier said.

But it's been a smooth transition.


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