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Meet the triathlete who just happens to be transgender and deaf

trans deaf competitive athlete Kamden Roman
Courtesy Kamden Roman

Kamden Romano recently completed the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon, which he says is a metaphor for his life.

In May, Kamden Romano became the first LGBTQ+ and deaf triathlete to compete in the famous Escape From Alcatraz triathlon. Since I have had hearing issues all my life, someone who overcomes the affliction is an immediate hero.

Several years ago, when Netflix’s Never Have I Ever was one of the streaming service’s most popular programs, I wrote about actor Dino Petrera. While I was watching the show, I noticed, from a shot behind his head, that he had hearing aids in both ears. I had never seen that on television before.

That is why when I found out about Romano, I immediately reached out to him after he completed Alcatraz in 2:47:45 and placed third in the Open Division. “My coach and I had been working together week by week adjusting the training load. It was successful because I escaped,” he said with an intended pun. “I enjoyed kicking ass on Alcatraz’s tough course.”

Romano was born in Elmhurst, Ill., and currently lives in Huntley, Ill. He was born deaf to a hearing family and has two siblings, one of whom is also deaf.

“I grew up playing soccer, and I joined the U.S. deaf women’s soccer team in 2004 and played in two Deaflympics in 2005 and 2009 and won three gold medals. I also played in one deaf World Cup in 2012,“ he says.

Romano went to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and I graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. During that time he played for a women’s tackle football team, the DC Divas, and afterwards for the Chicago Force. In 2010, he started running, and has been running triathlons for the last five years.

“I've run 10 marathons, over 30 half-marathons, and recently completed my first 50k in February on my birthday,” Romano enthused. “In 2019, I moved on to triathlons. I love finding new challenges and pushing my body to its limits.”

Since I have hearing issues, I'm always curious about how others became deaf. “I was born completely deaf,” Romano told me during an email exchange. “My parents learned sign language and began to teach me, but I learned more when I started school at 3 years old. ASL has always been my primary language.”

When you are deaf, the hearing world can present some major challenges, and I wondered, particularly as an athlete, if Romano found that to be true. “Despite being deaf, I don't have any physical limitations. I can still accomplish whatever someone who can hear can do, except for the hearing part,” he said.

However, he explained that his whole life has been filled with hurdles around communication. “As an athlete, it can be difficult for me to have access to information regarding races such as announcements or briefings for athletes,” he conveyed. “I miss out on the buzzing excitement and the national anthem. And I'm unable to position myself at the start line's front row since I can't hear the horn signaling the start, so I usually just stand behind some runners and begin when they do.”

That said, being deaf does have an advantage. Romano said it helps him stay focused during the race and not get distracted by all the noises.

In terms of his identity, Romano told me that he came out when he was 18 after he won a gold medal at the Deaflympics in Australia. “I came home, and I told my mom that I kissed a girl at the dance club. She said, ‘Oh that's normal, people get drunk and have fun.’ She was happy that I had a great time in Australia, but she didn’t get it.”

It took Romano some time to figure out how to explain to her what was going on. “About a month later, the night before my birthday, I walked into her bedroom. I was so nervous. I said, ‘Do you remember when I kissed a girl in Australia?’ She said, ‘Yes, what about it?’ I said, ‘Well, I liked it, I am interested in women.’ She was a little shocked, but the next day she texted me a happy birthday and told me that she loves me no matter what and wants me to be happy. It was a great birthday gift.”

Twelve years later, he told a few friends that he identified as transgender. “I was going through the same feelings all over again. Coming out is not easy. I was nervous and worried about how they would react to the news. They were all so supportive, which was a huge relief.”

And Romano used the experience of coming out to his friends as a test run before he told his mother. “It was a little harder for her to take in this news. My mom came with me to my first appointment for my hormone replacement therapy. She asked questions and tried to understand the process; it meant a lot to know she was supportive and that she loved me. I’m her oldest child and she named me, so when I was changing my name, I included her in the process: We agreed on Kamden.”

I asked Romano what advice he had for any young deaf queer people who might be reading his story. “Take care of your body. You live in there. Treat it like it’s your home. Do what makes your soul happy. And don’t let your deafness or gender identity stop you from doing what you love. Life is too short.”

Finally, he told me that participating in Alcatraz was a perfect metaphor for his life. “I feel like escaping the prison fits perfectly for this Pride Month and my transgender journey. I escaped the wrong body and am finally enjoying the freedom of being who I am. It’s like escaping from society and having the freedom to love whoever and be whoever you want to be.”

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John Casey

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.