For Kamden Romano and running, it wasn’t love at first race. The triathlete ran their first 5K at age 13, and was crying the entire time.

A lifelong athlete, and elite soccer player growing up, Romano didn’t run again until years later, at the behest of their mother (who doubles as their training coach, biggest fan and best friend).

Romano went on to compete in multiple marathons, including the Dopey Challenge, which challenges participants to complete a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon over four consecutive days.

But for competitive athletes, there’s no greater challenge than the Ironman. Believed to be one of the most difficult single-day sporting events in the world, with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.22-mile run. Romano competed in their first Ironman in 2021, and has been hooked ever since.

For Romano, their love for triathlons coincides with their journey of self-discovery. They completed their transition in 2018, and competed in their first triathlon the following year.

“I fell in love with triathlons,” they said. “I knew it would be worth the wait to jump back into running after my transition, so once it was completed–top surgery, gender and name change–I jumped right into training and did my first solo in 2019.”

Born deaf in a hearing family, Romano isn’t phased by obstacles. They only further motivate them. Today, Romano has competed in 10 triathlons and two Ironmans, with another big challenge coming up. On June 9, they’ll participate in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, a grueling event that features a 1.5-mile swim around Alcatraz Island to the shore, an 18-mile bike ride and 8-mile run.

Romano is believed to be the first deaf trans person to finish an Ironman, and is set to make history at the Escape from Alcatraz as well.

With the race days away, Queerty recently caught up with Romano to chat about their perseverance, athletic models and special relationship with their mom/coach. Here’s what they had to say…

QUEERTY: When you finished your first Ironman in 2021, the announcer said, “YOU ARE an Ironman.” How did that make you feel? 

KAMDEN ROMANO: The last few miles when I had nothing left in me, I thought about my mom and how much she supported me through my journey: transitioning, top surgery, countless visits to the courthouse to change my name and gender. Through all two years of training, she was always there for me. Thinking about her fueled me; I gave my all and ran with so much heart and pride. 

Before the race, my mom had talked about how much she loved Mike Reilly’s voice many times. I wanted her to hear him announcing my name. As soon as I got on the red carpet, my pain was replaced by goosebumps. I found my mom and gave her the biggest hug before I crossed the finish line. I’m happy that she got to hear the announcement for me; that’s my favorite moment from the race.

As soon as the medal was placed over my head, so many feelings kicked in! I couldn’t believe that I did it and that I was an Ironman! It was an amazing feeling, and I was so proud of myself for training on my own and accomplishing this dream.

What’s the hardest part about competing in triathlons and Ironmans?

Triathlons are a challenging sport, but it is something I particularly enjoy. I love to push myself. The most challenging aspect now is resisting the urge to sign up for additional races! The sport of triathlon, while addictive, is such a rewarding experience because I get to see what my body can do. I’m very goal-oriented, so I thrive on achievement. Yet, I do admit that it is difficult to maintain a balance between social life, work, and training. 

What’s your training regimen?

Jennifer Harrison (JHC) coaches me and she makes my training plan on a weekly basis. This is my second year with her, and I just absolutely love working with her. I’m on a six or seven-day-a-week training regimen. She’s helped me grow my love for swimming. It used to be my weakest discipline, but now it’s one of my favorite things! So, I’m thrilled to push my swimming to a new level at the Escape [From Alcatraz].

Have you found a deaf and trans community in sports?

I grew up playing soccer, and during my senior year of high school, I learned about the USA Deaf Women’s National soccer team. I got the opportunity to try out right after graduating high school, and just six months later, I was competing against other countries in the Deaflympic in Melbourne, Australia. Winning the gold medal was my first introduction to Deaf sports, and ever since, I’ve participated in a variety of Deaf sports events, including flag football, basketball, softball, volleyball and now triathlon.

The Trans community, much like the Deaf community, is small. I was thrilled to meet two Trans athletes for the first time at Ironman California in October 2023. Meeting them was really inspiring, because we are all paving the way for the Trans community to participate in sports. As a Deaf and Trans athlete, my goal is to inspire both Deaf and Trans communities and show that we can achieve anything!

Who are your role models? 

My mom is my main role model. Since I started triathlons in 2019, I’ve been looking up to professional triathletes; Sam Long, Taylor Knibb, Chelsea Sodora and Kristian Blummerfelt. Blake Culley is a Deaf non-binary advocate and was the person who inspired me to start my transition. I wouldn’t be who I am now if it wasn’t for them. Also, since I started my transition, I’ve been really inspired by trans athletes Chris Mosier and Schuyler Bailar.

What do you like to do for fun? 

I love hiking, traveling, spending time with my family, and signing up for more races! 

What’s up for you this summer?

I plan on taking a short break from competing to travel for a while. In November, I’ll begin training for the 50-mile ultra event.

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