(SANTA CLARA, Calif.) — Fifty-one-year-old Gabrielle Ludwig is a 6-foot-6-inch transgender woman, and among the first to play on both men’s and women’s college ball teams.
Once male, now female, Ludwig is a computer administration major at Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif., where she joined the Lady Saints women’s basketball team.
“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 said in an interview with ABC News.
Ludwig, who plays center on the team, was prepared for intolerance, and there was some. There was an anonymous threat that prompted the college briefly to assign her police protection, and a safer parking space near the gym. And Ludwig said the college had some bureaucratic hurdles for her to get over as well.
“I wasn’t allowed to participate in any games until I produced a new birth certificate… This made me feel discriminated against since none of the other team players had to provide birth certificates,” she said.
“I looked into NCAA and CCCAA [California Community College Athletic Association] rules regarding transgendered eligibilities to play basketball, and I had to provide evidence of being on female hormones for more than two years,” she said. “I am a woman in every way.”
Still, Ludwig says she has been accepted more readily on the team than some might think. “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,” Corey Cafferata, head coach of the Mission College women’s basketball program, told ABC News.
A former technician in the Navy who served in Operation Desert Storm, Ludwig was born in Germany, lived in Wyoming and New York, and has a grown daughter, born when Ludwig was a man. She briefly attended college as a teenager in New York and played basketball there, but that was 30 years ago.
Cafferata said that after Gabrielle enrolled at Mission and started taking 12 academic units she became eligible to be on the college team.
“Being part of the team is a big accomplishment. I have been trying out with a group of young and powerful athletes, and keeping up with them is a great thing,” said Ludwig. “The best thing about being on the team is being able to contribute to our goal of winning every game.”
Her age has sometimes slowed her on the court, but her coach says her fellow players have rallied around her. “Gabrielle is liked and well respected in the team. She is a hard worker, courageous, and inspirational young lady and is a role model to many of her teammates,” said Cafferata.
Ludwig still has a long way to go to get back in shape. “The worst moments for me are when I fall on the court and have to take a few seconds to check whether or not I am injured, while the rest of the players just bounce back up.”
But Ludwig’s height will make a difference when Mission plays the College of the Siskiyous on Dec. 29. She stands a head taller than her teammates.
“She is very big and her team can turn a slow game into a fast one… We’ll be prepared next time and we’ll try to keep a double team on her,” Tom Powers, head coach of the Siskiyous women’s basketball team, told ABC News.
“I dealt with gender identity at an early age and I had many responsibilities raising my daughter,” Ludwig said. “Once she was well on her way and once I felt she was okay with it, I decided to become who I really am.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jackie Wattles, CNN