June 21, 2012

Steve Solloway: Showing a strength that can't be measured

Keelin Godsey's friends will try to go about their lives today. For three in particular, it won't be easy. Their thoughts will be thousands of miles away with a lone hammer thrower who will try to qualify for the women's U.S. Olympic team and make history.

click image to enlarge

In 2005, while at Bates, Kelly Godsey met with her track and field teammates to declare herself a male. She is now Keelin, and vying for an Olympic spot.

Phyllis Graber Jensen photo

"I always want Keelin to be happy," said Jennifer "Jay" Hartshorn, women's track coach at Bates College. "He's accomplished so much. He's been so brave."

By all physical definitions, Godsey – 5-foot-9, 186 pounds – is a woman. Mentally and emotionally, he is a man. In the fall of 2005, as Bates students arrived back on campus, the senior classmate previously known as Kelly Godsey met with track teammates to declare herself a male. He asked to be called by his new name, Keelin.

He has not had gender-changing surgery. He has not taken treatments, such as testosterone supplements to start the transition. In the eyes of the NCAA six years ago and the International Olympic Committee today, Keelin is still Kelly.

If Godsey finishes among the top three of 24 throwers invited to the trials today, he makes the women's team. That's history. No declared transgender athlete has ever made a U.S. Olympics team. Being the first will turn a gentle but guarded soul into a must-get interview.

"That could be hard, but he is up to it," said Erica Rand, a professor of Women and Gender Studies at Bates and Godsey's academic adviser. "He wants to live life with integrity and being at peace with himself is important. He made the decision to be the focus of that article."

Rand was referring to a recent Sports Illustrated story on transgender athletes. Godsey has been selective with his interviews. He did not respond to my request two weeks before he left his home in North Adams, Mass., for the trials in Oregon.

"You have to be extremely brave to come out as transgender," said Rand. "A person cannot control how people react. That can be scary. Bigotry is painful."

Which is why Godsey, a Colorado native, decided to go public with his decision at Bates rather than wait until after graduation. He felt safe at Bates where he believed he had the respect of students and faculty. In fact, Bates became one of the first schools to establish policy to deal with transgender athletes.

In a comment supplied by Hartshorn from 2005, Godsey said he had hid his entire life.

"It's hard to live what you see as a lie. Everyone knows this one person, but you don't even consider that one person to be you."

You can watch Godsey talk about his decision at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIDij7iGT8E.

Keelin did not lose the friendships he made as Kelly. In fact, his teammates became protective of their talented hammer thrower once they listened and understood. Cassandra Kirkland Stambaugh, a teammate and fellow thrower who grew up in Greene, near Lewiston, questioned my intent before she answered my questions.

"He always made sure his teammates came first. He's very dedicated, very nice, very caring. I remember the meeting when he told us who he was. To me, he was the same person. His personality hadn't changed."

He's the person who can throw an 8.8-pound metal ball attached to a wire and handle great distances. Using the women's weight, Godsey met the Olympic qualifying standard with a throw over 227 feet. He was third in the 2011 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a throw of 226 feet. The world record is 260 feet, 6 inches.

"Strength is important, but so is speed and technique," said Stambaugh, now living in Lakeland, Fla.

Godsey is a two-time NCAA Division III champ and record holder. In 2006, he shattered his record by just over 11 feet, winning with a throw of 206-5.

He's a 28-year-old physical therapist living in North Adams, Mass., and working at the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. If he doesn't make the Olympic team, he will go ahead with surgery and the treatments that will change his gender physically.

"It takes a long time for people to figure out who they are, if they ever do," said Stambaugh. "Keelin is already there. I know he's had a lot of uncomfortable moments. To have the gumption to say 'who I am' takes a strong person."

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:


Twitter: SteveSollowayPPH

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