On a sunny Saturday afternoon, June 24, 2022, Canadian paralympian Ness Murby stepped into the discus ring at the Canadian Track and Field Championships and immediately made history. He became the first openly transgender competitor in the history of that championship meet.
He competed the way he always wanted to, in the men’s division.
“It was liberating, and multifaceted and hard,” Murby said happily said in a recent interview on The Trans Sporter Room podcast. “I showed up for myself, my younger self, I showed up for the man I am today. Being out there, just doing what I do as authentic self? There’s nothing better.”
Just stepping in the ring was a milestone in a recent slate of them. In November 2020, Murby came out: “I’m genderqueer, transmasculine, and my pronouns are he/him and they/them,” he proclaimed on the Five Rings to Rule Them All podcast . “It is an honor to say that out loud.”
After narrowly missing a berth on Team Canada for the Paralympics in Tokyo last year, Murby started masculinizing hormone replacement therapy.
“I realized that piece of me, being perceived in the world as who I am, was missing.”
The work he did led to his first throw at Canada’s nationals. His effort measured 21.49 meters, good enough for fourth overall in a combined para discus event. The meet represented a triumph for Murby and a start of a steep climb.
“I am still an elite athlete. I walk into that circle prepared to grow. Success is a measure that isn’t about just a distance on this journey.”
With his move into men’s competition, he has to deal with a changing body, a discus that is double the weight, and having to relearn to throw the implement again.
How steep is the learning curve? Consider this: In the F11 men’s discus at the Paralympics in Tokyo last summer, it took a 32-meter effort to make the finals and a 39-meter throw to reach the podium. The gold medalist, Brazil’s Alessandro Rodrigo da Silva, won the event with a 43.16-meter toss.
Murby isn’t fazed by the work ahead.
“It’s pure excitement! I’m at the at the beginning,” he said. “The world hasn’t seen me yet. I know that each day makes a difference. Each weight session makes a difference.
“I’m throwing the heaviest discus and it is a completely different technique. With the discus being 2 kilograms, it isn’t just about a stronger individual, it’s about what you have to do to keep that implement in the air. It’s a totally different technique going into it and I didn’t know that. This isn’t just about Ness Murby on HRT getting stronger day-by-by, this is about overhauling my entire technique.”
His life has been a study in handling change and meeting challenges to achieve goals. Born in Australia in 1985, Murby came into the world having to adapt to a rare eye condition that left him blind by his teenage years.
By age 6, he foresaw another change. When his grandmother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered: “a husband and a father”.
Today, he’s both. He met his spouse Eva Fejes while living in Japan in 2009 and making the switch from playing competitive goalball to powerlifting while also teaching English. They were married in 2012.
Murby followed Fejes to her native Canada where he emigrated and switched to the javelin and discus. Since 2015, he has been a part of Team Canada and qualified for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
The achievement he sought most as a child came true with the birth of his daughter Zehb in 2021. He sees her as a reminder of what his role is now in addition to being an athlete.
“I needed someone when I was younger to tell me that it was okay to be who you are,” he explained. “I’m hoping that what I’m doing right now by showing up will help my kiddo. When she’s older she’s going to look back and say, ‘We can do hard things’.”
He also sees sports as his platform to speak out on the intersections of trans rights, disability justice and the rights of athletes. Murby has a lot to say on how the voices of transgender men on the issue of participation and inclusion are not heard and should be.
“Trans men are erased because of the idea that we take testosterone, and that we are not conquering all defeats a lot of the hate and discrimination,” he noted. “It doesn’t help fuel the harm. Being a trans man who is continuing in the field is an inconvenience to the push back and the argument. Mind you, if I were winning I would be bearing the brunt of anti-trans legislation immediately.”
He says a similar situation plays out in regards to how adaptive sport classes are conceived.
“Firstly, you’ve got people who don’t have the lived experience of being disabled making these decisions and setting up these classifications,” Murby discussed. “Secondly, with the lack of intersectionality, for example, I’m blind and have a severed nerve in my left leg. I have to pick which classification I get to register under. Being totally blind is the more severe impediment so I throw as a blind thrower, yet it does not taken into consideration the difficulty that I have.
“Part of the problem is that they try to put humans into boxes. It’s the same thing. You end up with cisgender people trying to come up with trans policies. Nothing about us without us. It has to come from lived experience and people who understand the nuances of what going on in these environments.”
Murby takes on the new challenge with a resume of past success. He was on the podium twice at the World Para Athletic Championships and twice at the Parapan American Games. Yet, sports means even more now because he feel he is fully engaged in the contest.
“Me being being able to be myself is freedom,” he said with joy. “I don’t want anybody else to feel that journeying this road would be them alone as a first. I am right here for us. I am showing up and I am unleashed. I will keep showing up in every ring and every space because we belong in sport.”