Maria Joaquina Cavalcanti Reikdal is a figure skater from Brazil, a country where winter sports are rare. She is 14 years old and has just completed her debut at the junior Grand Prix series. The skater has not yet achieved much success: she took the penultimate place in the tournament, ahead of only the athlete from Ecuador, Valentina Cueva.
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By the age of 14, Maria Joaquina had won the Brazilian junior championship twice in women’s singles, and she also skated figure skates. But some time ago, she could not compete – all because she is a transgender figure skater.
We talk about how this amazing young girl came to figure skating, how she was prevented from competing at home and how her international career begins in connection with the new ISU rules.
Reikdal is one of the most talented figure skaters in Brazil.
Maria Joaquina was born in Curitiba, according to the documents her birth name is Joao. Her parents adopted her along with her brother and sister, and very soon it turned out that Joao feels like a girl. The adults were confused, but then they accepted the daughter as she was, and she herself chose a new name for herself.
Before the diagnosis, Maria felt very depressed, her mood was noticeably different from other children, because she could not be who she really is. But when they began to see her real in her, the situation changed.
Maria Joaquin Reikdal
Photo: from the personal archive of Maria Joaquina Reikdal
It happened that at the competitions Maria Joaquina was announced as Joao, and this caused a sharp reaction – both from other participants and spectators, and from the girl and her family. At the age of 11, Maria had to face her first serious difficulties: she took silver at the Brazilian Roller Skating Championship and was supposed to participate in the South American Championship, but due to problems with her documents, she was denied participation. Through the court, Maria’s family was able to get the truth, and the girl was allowed to compete.
But at the tournament itself, the skater seemed to want to put a spoke in the wheels: they suddenly changed the order of the participants, and Maria had to skate first, and in fact without a warm-up. In an interview with the BBC, the father of the young athlete noted that Maria was worried and fell four times, which is not at all typical for her.
“If they don’t let me compete, then I will be very sad, but I will continue to train,” Maria Joaquina noted in that story. Now she really got the opportunity to compete on ice.
What does the ISU think about transgender people and transitions from one species to another?
In 2021, the International Skating Union (ISU) issued a communique in which it regulated the participation of transgender skaters in the starts:
If a girl feels like a man and wants to change her appearance, then just an application to the authority is enough. After a course of hormone therapy, it will be impossible to return to female singles.
If a young man / man feels like a woman and wants to change his look, then the testosterone level comes into play: for 12 months before, and then during the tournament, you need to have indicators of no more than 5 nmol / l.
When Maria was 11 years old, her testosterone level was at around 0.5 nmol / l, according to her father, this was even less than that of her sister Thalia, who is a girl from birth.
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Until puberty has begun, the skater will be able to fulfill these conditions: she does not have any advantage over her rivals due to the fact that she was born a boy. But closer to puberty, testosterone levels will begin to rise, and, most likely, she will have to undergo hormone therapy.
Ordinary athletes, women with high levels of this hormone, also underwent such therapy to lower testosterone. A vivid example is the runner Caster Semenya from South Africa, who was closed to the crown distances due to testosterone levels similar to those of men. From 400m to one mile, this World Athletics rule works, but it doesn’t for others, so after a bad experience with therapy, Caster retrained as a stayer.
Caster Semenya at the competition, 2022
Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
How did Maria Joaquina make her ISU debut?
At the stage of the Grand Prix among juniors in Riga, Maria did not perform very well – she took the penultimate, 33rd place. Her result in the sum of two programs is 79.45 points.
In the short program, the skater skated to the soundtrack to the cartoon “Puss in Boots”, making a double flip cascade – a double toe loop, a double axel and a double loop. Rotations and track came out of the first level of difficulty. In the free program, the skater went for a triple salchow, didn’t twist it, but didn’t fall, but otherwise she also managed with double jumps. The music for the program is again from cartoons, this time it is “Ice Age” and “Rio”.
Despite the result, the skater was probably happy. She was able to skate without falling, had the opportunity to represent her country and do what she loves.