Rach McBride, Non-binary Professional Triathlete & Life Time Grand Prix Participant: Rach McBride is, in the words of Kimo Seymour, “a fucking badass”. A three-time Ironman 70.3 champion, Rach has committed to racing the entirety of the inaugural Life Time Fitness Grand Prix. They are also the only non-binary athlete participating in the series. This is the second in a series of interviews about the change that’s happening in cycling as seen from the vantage points of people involved in one of the biggest drivers of that change: The gravel cycling world. For each of them, I (Erik Mathy) sit down with the interviewee and have a conversation, recording it so it can be transcribed down to their words.
The Women’s Open class attacks a series of switchback climbs in the Fuego 80k XC race at Sea Otter, which is the first race in the Life Time Grand Prix series
Rach McBride is, in the words of Kimo Seymour, “a fucking badass”. A three-time Ironman 70.3 champion, Rach has committed to racing the entirety of the inaugural Life Time Fitness Grand Prix. They are also the only non-binary athlete participating in the series. Rach came out as non-binary during the pandemic lockdown over two years ago and has been a highly visible advocate for LGBTIQA+ rights since. As athletic events attempt to navigate, or make the choice not to navigate, societal change around gender and identity it’s athletes like Rach who have become the faces of that conversation.
I interviewed Rach at Sea Otter 2022. They were unable to race the Fuego 80k XC due to a knee injury and focus on the upcoming Iron Man World Championship, but attended Sea Otter regardless. I wanted to know what it was like to be a professional non-binary athlete, how the experiences of Iron Man and gravel cycling differed, their viewpoints on participating in races that are hosted in states with anti-LGBTIQA+, and a variety of other topics. Rach was open, engaging, unfiltered, an extroverted introvert who cares deeply for others. Not knowing anything about the non-binary experience I found the conversation to be incredibly educational. I hope you do as well.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity
“It was only when I came back to racing and the very binary world of professional triathlons that I realized just how far we still had to go in all of this.” – Rach McBride, Non-binary Professional Triathlete & Life Time Grand Prix Participant
On coming out as non-binary as a professional athlete
The bottom line is I have been non-binary my whole life. It’s only now that I actually have the language and the understanding to be able to understand myself, really. I have been out as non-binary I think now for about two years. Yes, just about two and a half years.
I really started to do a lot more talking about being non-binary right before the pandemic. Once the pandemic hit, and there was no racing, then people came to talk to me. I did a lot of podcasts, so many different articles. It was incredibly supportive. When I finally came out, you know, specifically over social media, it was incredible. It was only because I had put little hints out there and, in those hints, had gotten so much support already. I was like, “Okay, this is going to be a safe space for me, my community on social media is going to be a safe space for me. Come out, and it’s going to be okay.” It was only when I came back to racing and the very binary world of professional triathlons that I realized just how far we still had to go in all of this. It was just the constant misgendering, the language used for the male and female races. That is not super inclusive. Yep. That’s when I realized, okay, this is going to take a little bit of energy.
I wish that we lived in a world where I didn’t have to be an advocate, where being non-binary was just normal. Where I could just live my life and there was a space for us to race and it wasn’t even a question. I think that I didn’t realize I was kind of throwing myself into this space. I thought, in my mind, I need to speak my truth, I need to be me. Then it definitely kind of blew up a little bit bigger than I anticipated. I am someone who cares a lot about the world, and I care a lot about my community. It’s important for me to be contributing in some way. So I’m not going to just ignore all of that, I’m not going to ignore the opportunity to be who I needed to see when I was a kid.
I’m seeing now that as much of an introvert as I am and as much as I kind of try and keep some of my private life private, that it’s really powerful to be open. It’s really powerful to tell the story. It was only when I came out and just continued talking about things that other non-binary folks and parents of non-binary kids reached out and were like, thank you so much. That was a huge inspiration to say, “Okay, I need to keep doing this.” It was only through the courage of people who’ve come before me, other trans athletes and trans folks, other non-binary folks who have been out there in the world whose paths I followed and made me think, “If they have the courage to do this, I can do it.”
“I am someone who cares a lot about the world, and I care a lot about my community. It’s important for me to be contributing in some way. So I’m not going to just ignore all of that, I’m not going to ignore the opportunity to be who I needed to see when I was a kid.“ – Rach McBride, Non-binary Professional Triathlete & Life Time Grand Prix Participant
On participating in gravel cycling events, creating and enforcing trans and non-binary classes
To be honest, it’s incredible. I think it’s really different than the triathlons that I’ve raced, because it has been so inclusive. That’s a big reason why I’m here is because of their commitment to inclusion and diversity. I think it’s really groundbreaking. They’re (Life Time Fitness) in this position where they could really change the game of endurance sport, by taking these stands.
There are races which have lotteries that are keeping slots open for women and non-binary folks. Then people who didn’t get in with the lottery then are like, “Oh, okay, I’m a woman.” And then it becomes a problem, especially when people show up on the podium in the results. And it’s kind of like, what the Hell? The policy in a lot of races is that it is participant driven to contest that. If someone doesn’t believe that someone’s in the right category, an authentic category, then they can bring that up as a protest. I don’t know the process. In terms of once the nonbinary category gets bigger, I think, in my opinion, it should be up to the non-binary athletes to define what is quote unquote fairness. It’s their sport and their group. For transgender classes I think that we really don’t know that testosterone for example, or androgens, determine sex or gender. I think that one of the big questions that we’re trying to answer right now in terms of sport is how do we define gender for competition?
Most of the gravel races I am doing a non-binary category. Well, outside of Sea Otter but that’s, I think, the exception from the series. But I mean, it’s night and day compared to triathlons. Gravel is in such a different place in terms of inclusion. A couple of years ago there was a local gravel race on Vancouver Island. When I was registering for this race, it had an open space for gender instead of having to check an M and an F box. You could write in whatever you wanted. And then you just had to check off which race you were going to be racing. Nice! It was such an eye opener of how easy it can be for race directors to be inclusive on their registration forms, for one. I was just like, this is the first time that I’ve encountered this, and it’s at this tiny race. It was really powerful, how validated and seen I felt, just by that really simple change.
They didn’t have a non-binary race, but I was like, “Okay, I don’t have to identify myself as an M or an F. I can just say, Yes, I want to race in this race. It’s not relevant. What’s relevant is what race I’m going to race in.”
I’ve been a professional athlete for 11 years. I’ve been racing in the Female category for my entire life. As a professional, I understand that there isn’t technically a category for non-binary folks yet. I am comfortable with that, especially now that I have a better understanding of why I feel weird going up to the starting line. Why I don’t feel like I really fit in. I’m a lot more comfortable with all of that. I just know this is how it is right now. But I can imagine if you have grown up non-binary and you’re looking at sport and you’re thinking, “Where? Where do I fit in? I don’t see people like me. I don’t see a category to compete in.”
Where I struggle a little bit is that obviously there still is, especially at the professional level, especially in cycling, an imbalance between the Pro men and women. In terms of support, in terms of money, in terms of media, and I don’t want to take away from that. I think that that is still really important to address. I think it’s important to advocate for that as well.
I mean, I feel there are people who want to race and pay money to race. And these corporations are here to make money. I really think it’s going to be a numbers game of when there is finally enough of a field for a non-binary Grand Prix, then there’ll be one. That’s why you see it happening more often in these local grassroots races, especially in gravel. It’s a no brainer. They’re including non-binary categories. There’s a race organization triathlon race organization and BC that has added a third category. It is the local races who are close to the community who are setting the standard.
On attending events in states that have Anti-LGBTIQA+ legislation
If the events are going to happen anyway then I’m going to show up. I think that is the idea of a lot of trans folks. That you go and you show up, and you’re like, fuck you. I’m here. I’m a person. I’m a human. I deserve to be competing. I deserve to be living. I deserve to exist. So fuck you.
I think that abandoning other trans folks in those communities isn’t an option. If I can show up in those communities and those trans folk or other non-binary folk or gender diverse people are on the sidelines who also want to race? Then it shows them that, hey, there are actually people like them out there. And it’s okay to be you. You can be successful and that there’s a world outside of your community.