Being Out is a new feature that looks at LGBTQ people in sports who have come out since Outsports first published in 1999. Today: Beach handball player Athena Del Rosario.
If her dream came through, Athena Del Rosario would be competing at the 2024 Olympics in Paris in beach handball.
As of yet, beach handball is not an Olympic sport like its indoor cousin, team handball. But Del Rosario has never given up on her dreams.
Del Rosario is transgender and she was brave enough to come out to her teammates on the UC Santa Cruz women’s soccer team and received nothing but support. “We are incredibly lucky to have someone like you in our lives,” one teammate said.
Having graduated, she discovered beach handball and has been included on the Team USA women’s beach handball roster for their upcoming training camp this summer.
Del Rosario will be speaking at the 2019 Outsports Pride conference in Los Angeles on June 7. Here are her answers to our six Being Out questions:
What do you love the most about beach handball?
In order to tell you what I love the most about my sport, I must first give you a short introduction to it. In America, most people think of handball as a game where you throw or hit a ball against a wall, but the rest of the world knows handball as a fast-paced, full-contact Olympic sport that is played on a court a little bit larger than a basketball court.
The beach version of the sport is similar except that its played on sand with five players (including a goalkeeper), is non-contact and awards extra points for “spectacular” plays, such as 360-degree spin shots and ally-oops. This year, beach handball was added to the youth Olympics and a push is on to make its Olympic debut in 2020 or 2024.
Because it’s not a sport that is popular, the majority of my club teammates and opponents were not born in this country and have moved to the U.S. either permanently or temporarily for work or to attend school.
Our club, Cal Heat is a family away from home for many, an amazing melting pot of different cultures from all over the world brought together by our love for handball. I am having the time of my life right now being a part of the U.S. Women’s Beach Handball team. It’s like being a kid and falling in love with a sport all over again. My teammates and coaches inspire me. Playing with elite level athletes pushes me to my limits and if there is anything I enjoy in life, its a challenge. It’s just so much fun.
I love the fast pace of the game. Both the beach and indoor version of team handball require quick decision making, teamwork, high fitness levels, and creativity.
What does it personally mean to you to be LGBTQ+ in sports?
When I step on the court or put my feet in the sand, I am just another player coming together to form one team to achieve a common goal. I am all about the team. I put all my personal issues aside when I am playing and focus on helping my teammates.
I do understand the implications of what it means to be a transgender athlete, especially in women’s sports. However, I don’t care about it. As long as my teammates accept me as their teammate and my coaches and opponents treat me like any other player, nothing else matters. I often feel like me being a transgender athlete means more to others than it does to me.
What does matter to me is that other athletes in my situation will see that they can participate. In 2013, when I first joined the soccer team at my college, I couldn’t find any other college athletes that I could really look up to and say that if she did it, I can do this too.
I had nobody to go to and ask about the recruitment process or anything. I had so many questions and no answers. I was navigating the college sports world as a trans female athlete in the dark in a world where it feels like almost everyone is against us participating.
I felt like I had to hide who I was, and I did. I even hid in the closet while another trans athlete joined the UC Santa Cruz volleyball team and was publicly out. I was enjoying my time playing soccer and in the closet, while she was suffering as an out trans athlete and struggling to get support from her coach who treated her poorly. I can’t stop thinking that maybe if I was out and could have been there for her that maybe things could have been different and she would of enjoyed her time.
I didn’t have to come out. However, I think that would of been selfish of me when there are younger athletes watching this debate over trans athletes play out and its killing them inside. I know this because it’s hurting me too.
It hurts to see people who don’t even know you exist say that you are a cheater just because of something you were born with that you have no control over. I came out because I don’t want other trans female athletes to go through what I and others have been going through and feeling so alone.
I had an amazing experience playing soccer at UC Santa Cruz. I have been welcomed with open arms ever since I came out by my teammates and coaches and I think others like me deserve to have the same great experiences in their sport. If I can help by showing that If I did it, anyone can, it will encourage other younger trans athletes to play the sports that they love.
What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ kids in athletics or who want to participate in athletics, the kind of advice the younger you wish you had heard?
I would be completely honest. I would tell them that you can do this. I would tell them that as long as you work hard at your sport, you will be able to accomplish all of your dreams while being true to yourself at the same time. You will be accepted. You will be loved. You will be welcomed. If you put in the work, nothing can stop you.
Who is someone that inspires you?
My coach Tina inspires me to be better at my sport, to live a healthy lifestyle and to have passion in life. My teammates inspire me. I have teammates on my club team that I have seen go through injury, pregnancy and everything else life throws at them and they are right back on the court as soon as they can for the sheer passion they have for handball and the team.
I have teammates on the U.S. Women’s Beach Handball team that inspire me to be a better athlete. I see them working on and off the court to get better at their sport when nobody is watching. Never stopping and working on their spin technique between breaks and before and after practice working to get better. My wife inspires me to want to keep living this life knowing how much I am loved. I am truly lucky to have all these wonderful people in my life.
What are you passionate/excited about right now?
I am really passionate and excited about handball. I was just selected to Team USA’s Women’s Beach Handball team roster for an upcoming training camp in Paros, Greece, this June, where we will train and maybe play some exhibition games with Greece, who are the current world champions and France as well.
I don’t think I could think of anything more exciting than having the opportunity to train and play at the highest level with teammates I love, a sport that I love, and on a beautiful Greek Island in the summer.
What is your most memorable sports moment?
My most memorable moment as an athlete was in 2015 when I was a goalkeeper on the Santa Cruz soccer team. We were in the Great South conference championship game in Georgia. The winner of the game was given a spot in the NCAA national tournament, so everything was riding on this one game.
It was pouring rain and freezing cold. My team played great defense but we just couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net as the opposing goalkeeper was having the game of her life. We went in to double overtime and still ended up not being able to put it away. It came down to penalties. My team scored four in a row and so did the other team.
It came down to the very last shot. The opposing goalkeeper actually came up to take the fifth penalty shot on me. My toes and fingers felt like they had frostbite, it was so cold. I was trying to do anything I can to stay warm and keep my mind focused.
She took a well-placed shot and with the very tips of my fingers, I guided the ball just outside of my right post. I was so excited to make the save but so relieved at the same time. My teammate Rika stepped up next to take her shot and she was visibly shaking. Not just from the pouring rain, but knowing that it might all came down to this one shot. She hammered it into the back of the net. In a brief moment of confusion, we all looked at each other. We had just won the conference title. It was surreal. I don’t think I could ever forget what that moment felt like.
Athena Del Rosario is a goalkeeper for Team USA Women’s Beach Handball and the San Francisco Cal Heat team handball club. She is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz and Alumni of the UCSC Banana Slugs women’s soccer program. She was born in Los Angeles and lives in Santa Cruz. She can be reached on twitter @MsGoalieQueen and Instagram @AthenajGK.
If you are out in sports in any capacity as openly LGBTQ and want to be featured in Being Out, drop Jim an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).