Gabrielle Ludwig is a 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound center on the women’s basketball team at Mission College, a community college located in Santa Clara, California. She’s 51 years old, which is kind of a heartwarming little story.
Oh, and she was a man until July.
Ludwig, a computer administration major, also played basketball more than three decades ago at another community college on Long Island in New York. Her name then was Robert John Ludwig, then, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Ludwig is believed to be the first American to play college basketball both with and without a penis.
She has also joined a very exclusive club of notable athletes who have changed genders, notes the Vallejo Times-Herald. Renée Richards, born a man, played professional tennis in the 1970s (ranking in the top 20 overall and making the cover of Sports Illustrated). And that’s about it.
“I have always been an avid basketball player and fan and I will try to stay on the team for as long as I am a student,” Ludwig told ABC News.
Ludwig had to clear some bureaucratic obstacles before she could join the team.
“Gabrielle contacted me in July about possibly playing at Mission College, and since late August 2012 we started working on her eligibility to do so,” Lady Saints head coach Corey Cafferata told ABC News.
Ludwig had to provide a new birth certificate in light of her new gender.
“I had to provide evidence of being on female hormones for more than two years,” she added, according to ABC. “I am a woman in every way.”
Ludwig, who was born in Germany, served in the Navy during Operation Desert Storm. While she was a man, Ludwig fathered a daughter, who is now grown.
“I dealt with gender identity at an early age, and I had many responsibilities raising my daughter,” Ludwig told ABC News. “Once she was well on her way and once I felt she was okay with it, I decided to become who I really am.”
Ludwig’s transgender status has generated some controversy.
Two ESPN radio hosts — since suspended — mocked Ludwig’s looks and called her “it,” ABC News reports. Also, an anonymous threat resulted in police protection for Ludwig along with a better, safer parking spot closer to the gym.
“She just happens to be a bit taller than everyone else,” said Dale Murray, commissioner for the Coast Conference, according to Edge Boston. “She’s a little older than other community college players, so that’s probably to her disadvantage.”
Age has been a factor during practice for Ludwig. Fatigue has been a problem, and she can’t bounce back up when she falls down as spryly as her teammates can.
“Being part of the team is a big accomplishment,” the transgendered quinquagenarian added. “I have been trying out with a group of young and powerful athletes, and keeping up with them is a great thing.”
In her December 1 debut at the 19th Annual Comet Classic, a tournament at Contra Costa College, Ludwig scored three points in approximately seven minutes of play, the New York Daily News reports.
All three points came on four free throw attempts.
In the next game, a week later, Ludwig scored eight points in 11 minutes.
Mission College next plays the College of the Siskiyous on Dec. 29.
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