Take Two®

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Gabrielle Ludwig, transgender college basketball player, pushes boundaries

by Michelle Lanz | Take Two®

Gabrielle Ludwig, a 6-foot-6-inch transsexual player on Mission College's women's basketball squad, reflects on her return to college ball on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, in Santa Clara, Calif. Gabrielle Ludwig made sports history this month as a basketball player at a Northern California community college. The 50-year-old transsexual, Army veteran, father and Mission College freshman is believed to be the first hoopster to play college ball as both a man and a woman. Noah Berger/AP

California Assembly Bill 1266, proposed by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would allow transgender students play on sports teams. Opponents of the bill worry that allowing transgender people to play on sports teams will create co-ed locker room situations

Gabrielle Ludwig isn't waiting for the outcome of that legislation. Instead, the transgender 51-year-old took matters into her own hands.

Ludwig joined the Lady Saints basketball team at Mission College in Santa Clara last fall as a mid-season walk on. She spent most of her life as Robert Ludwig, a towering Desert Storm veteran who was born in Germany and grew up in Wyoming and New York. She has been living as a woman since 2007 and underwent a gender reassignment surgery last summer, but Ludwig says she knew from a very early age that she was meant to be a woman.

"Sometimes you just can't understand what's going on, you feel somewhat different, but you just kind of put it aside," said Ludwig. "I think that I first became aware of it when I found that there were others like me. When the Internet was accessible to me back in 1990, and the more research that I had done on people like myself, made me feel kind of better, knowing that I wasn't alone."

An opportunity at work spurred Ludwig's decision to become a student at Mission College, but her experience as a youth basketball coach and a good relationship with the school's team coach pushed her into trying out for the team. 

"The next thing I know I'm on the basketball court trying out with a group of women who were clearly in much better shape than I was," said Ludwig. "I was having a very difficult time keeping up with these women, who, you can see the definition of muscle in their bodies, and they're so quick, I had to say to myself, 'What am I doing here?'"

Ludwig also wanted to address her status as a transgender woman with her teammates, to make sure she'd be a good fit and be welcomed to the team. She remembers speaking during a team meeting. 

"I gave them a brief background who I am and I asked them, 'Me being on this team is going to cause some issues, it's going to be negative and it's going to be positive, and I'm just here for the love of the game. Do you guys have any problems with a transsexual woman on your basketball team at the age of 51 and all the things that come with it?'" Said Ludwig. "I remember the team captain, she says, 'Look around, Gabby, you'll fit right in here. Just go hard, give 100 percent.' It was water under the bridge at that point and it was just up to me to get in shape."

Critics of allowing transgender people on sports team argue that it may give an unfair advantage, but Ludwig disagrees. 

"The length of time that you have to live as a woman, with all the hormones that have literally changed your body and put your strength at maybe just a little bit above a genetic woman, my age, that is balances out," said Ludwig. "Muscles atrophy, lots of things change. I'm not walking on the court as a man, I'm walking on the court as a woman."

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