In whitewater slalom kayaking, boaters compete to navigate a set of rapids by paddling through an obstacle course of poles that hang from wires above the river.
It’s a tough sport, and one local athlete who’ll be competing will be facing an additional challenge. Trans paddler Katalina Murrie has been competing in slalom for over a decade, but this year will be her first time entering in the women’s category.
As far as she knows, she’s the first out transgender person to compete in the sport, anywhere in the world.
Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Murrie has been competing in whitewater slalom kayaking since she was ten years old. She also spent many years coaching kids at Ottawa River Runners, some of whom have now grown up to compete nationally and internationally themselves.
Murrie made a video to introduce her fellow paddlers to her new name and pronouns, saying that she wanted to come to the competition “from a place of strength”.
So far, her video has garnered hundreds of views and many encouraging comments. She’s also reached out to friends in the sport to support her and to run interference with others to whom her transition is news: “You have to build your army first: find people who can support you and make sure they know what you want and what you’re going through.”
At this point, she’s encountered only positive reactions from other kayakers. However, since many trans athletes, especially trans women, have been barred from competing in the category for their correct gender, she worries about encountering resistance.
“I hope people can just let it happen and just let me—finally, after all these years—race in the right category.”
She cites other trans women in sports, like mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox, as showing her a way forward as a trans athlete.
“Trans women have to go through so many judgments about our bodies in day to day life, and then when you get into a sport, you encounter a whole other set of judgments about your body.”
Murrie hopes that by competing, and by speaking about her experiences as a trans athlete, she will inspire others to do the same. Eventually, her hope is that there may eventually be enough out trans athletes that they can come together for conferences and workshops to discuss how the sporting world can become a more comfortable place for trans people of all genders.
The 2017 Canadian Canoe Kayak Whitewater Championships will take place July 31 to August 6, with the main races happening Saturday August 5 and Sunday August 6.
The location of the national competition rotates yearly, and it’s been 17 years since it’s been in Ottawa. It’s an exciting spectator sport, and anyone is welcome to come watch.