Valentina Petrillo is a determined transgender athlete. She finished her run in third place in the 400-meter race at the World Para Athletics Championship in Paris. The bronze medal marked her ninth medal in women’s events.
Petrillo completed the race with an impressive time of 58.24 seconds, placing her behind Omara Durand of Cuba (52.82 seconds) and Alejandra Perez Lopez of Venezuela (57.88 seconds).
Diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a condition causing vision impairment, at the age of 14, Petrillo’s athletic dreams seemed to shatter. However, her unwavering determination led her back to the sport at the age of 41, competing in the visually impaired category. As a man, she won an impressive 11 national titles in men’s categories before embarking on her journey of transitioning.
Petrillo previously set a new record for 200m indoor run, and faced harsh criticism.
Petrillo might even still have her gonads. She was asked to address social media reports about awkwardness in the changing rooms. Corriere sport reports:
Interviewer: On social media there are those who have expressed discomfort in sharing the shower with a person who, at present, has the body of a man.
Petrillo: “I don’t think whoever wrote that comment has ever seen male genitalia. And no one has ever seen me naked anyway. I take a shower in my bathing suit; nor do I see women, having severe vision problems.’”
In 2017, Petrillo shared her decision to transition with her family, and in 2019, she underwent hormone therapy. Throughout this transformative process, Petrillo remained committed to adhering to the rules set forth by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and World Athletics, ensuring fair competition for all athletes.
In 2021, she became the first transgender athlete to participate in the international Paralympic Women’s Championship. Petrillo now holds the Italian records for the 200-meter T12 (27.17 seconds) and the indoor 400-meter T13 (59.77 seconds), both achieved in the visually impaired category.
Her achievements spark debates about transgender athletes competing in women’s categories. Some athletes have expressed concerns, and in 2024, World Athletics decided to exclude transgender women from participating in women’s sports at the Paris Olympics to safeguard the integrity of the female category.