Noa-Lynn van Leuven is ranked in the world's top six in women's darts | Judith Jockel

One of darts’ rising stars continues to blaze a trail for trans athletes after claiming a maiden title success on her debut at the PDC Challenge Tour.

Noa-Lynn van Leuven is the first woman to win an event in the series, which is for players competing one level below the sport’s top tier.

There are 24 Challenge Tour events across the year, and the top two in the Order of Merit at the end of the campaign qualify for the World Championships and receive two-year PDC Tour cards, elevating them into the elite ranks.

Last weekend, 2024’s second batch of five back-to-back events was held in Hildesheim in northern Germany. 

Van Leuven said she was hoping to bring her “A game” to the oche when making her tournament bow. She surprised even herself by winning six matches in a row to take victory in the very first event.

That landed the Dutch star a top prize of over US $3,000 and following the weekend, with 10 events out of 24 completed, she is in ninth spot in the Order of Merit — well placed to push on when the Challenge Tour action resumes in Leicester, UK, in June.

“I’m so proud of myself,” she tells Outsports. “The first tournament, winning on debut — there aren’t many people who can say that. I played great over the whole weekend.

“The ambition this year is to gain experience and become a better player overall. I still have a long way to go in that.

“I’ll play some more Challenge Tour events, and hopefully stay high enough in the rankings to be invited onto the pro tour one day.”

PDC chief executive Matt Porter told Outsports: “Noa-Lynn has made great progress in the last year.

“We congratulate her on her success in the Winmau Challenge Tour last week; her performances were superb throughout the event and it’s another step forward for her ahead of this weekend’s first PDC Women’s Series events of 2024.”

Now ranked in the world’s top six of women’s darts, 27-year-old van Leuven has come a long way since quitting the sport in her late teens, having fallen out of love with it during the lowest point in her life. 

Once she began her transition, she soon became “a happier version” of herself. She found joy in playing darts again and she started to research what it might take for the authorities to allow her to play competitively.

That objective stalled for a couple years, but she was eventually cleared to compete in 2022 and joined the Women’s Series.

Then last summer, she was thrust into the spotlight of the sport when she qualified for the Women’s World Matchplay, making her the first trans woman to play in a televised PDC tournament.

That meant a round of media interviews and being at the centre of a seemingly inevitable debate around eligibility and inclusion policies.

Yet the PDC, which is the sport’s foremost organization globally, had been supporting LGBTQ inclusion initiatives such as the Rainbow Laces campaign for several years. Porter has gone on camera to say publicly that they stand by van Leuven.

“As I climbed the rankings towards that spot in the Matchplay, the PDC showed me a lot of support on the trans topic, and made a clear statement that I’m allowed to play,” she explained.

“Since that moment, they’ve been checking on me every once in a while. By including me — and the trans flag colors — for Rainbow Laces last November, they really showed that darts is a sport for anyone.

“It’s given me a boost and the courage to go out there.”

She wears her pride on her sleeve too.

“I have a tattoo of a feather in subtle trans colors, and on my throwing arm, there’s my dart monkey wearing a rainbow cape.

“The feather was my first tattoo — it’s a symbol of freedom that says I can be whoever I want to be. There’s also a semi-colon in there, which shows I could have chosen to end my sentence, but my story wasn’t over yet.

“And the other one shows my love for monkeys and also my passion for darts. Whenever I play darts, he’s proudly playing as well.”

There have been difficult moments. When she won the women-only Denmark Open last May, she was made to feel ostracized during the on-stage presentation as some of the players she had beaten muttered their disapproval behind her back.

Yet many others have supported her, both men and women, including the world’s top-ranked female darts player Beau Greaves, who she faced in front of the cameras at that Matchplay tournament in Blackpool last summer.

Through the tough times, van Leuven’s close friends have encouraged her to keep going, and she takes inspiration from seeing other trans athletes taking part in sports too.

She is about to announce a new sponsor and there is a strong chance she will be making more appearances at televised tournaments in the coming months.

The word she uses most of all to describe her darts success is “insane” but amid crazy comments online, Noa-Lynn knows exactly what she needs to do.

“I just go out and do the thing I love. It gives me joy.”

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