Just like countless other exercise fanatics, Chloie Jonsson wanted to test herself in a CrossFit strength competition. The popular fitness events culminate each summer with men and women being crowned as "The Fittest on Earth."
But Jonsson is a transgender woman and was told she would have to register as a man.
And now the intensely private Los Gatos woman has taken on a very public fight by filing a discrimination suit against CrossFit Inc., focusing national attention on the redrawing of lines about what it means to be a man and a woman in athletic competitions.
"I don't want to be the face of anything, even though that's the way it seems right now for the transgender community," said Jonsson, 34, a personal trainer. "I just wanted to do my thing."
For Jonsson, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2006, the issue is clear-cut. She is a woman. But the fitness company contends she would have an unfair advantage against other women.
"Their position never changed: If you were born with a penis, you have to compete as a man," said WaukeenMcCoy, the San Francisco attorney who represents Jonsson. "Their policy is you have to register with the sex you are born with. But California law is very clear that you cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity."
CrossFit did not return calls for comment.
Helen Carroll, the sports project director for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, said CrossFit's position is behind the times. Other organizations allow transgender athletes to compete after they meet specified guidelines -- including the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA.
"What CrossFit has done in this case is archaic," Carroll said. "It sounds like they didn't even bother to Google the issue. They're taking the approach that they just don't want to deal with it. But it's not going away. Everyone from professional sports to club teams are dealing with diversity issues and they're doing it well. It's really not that hard."
CrossFit is an intensive fitness regimen that, according to the company's website, has spawned a worldwide network of more than 5,500 affiliated gyms and 35,000 accredited trainers. A company marketing tool has been the months-long competitions that end with the televised Reebok CrossFit Games.
Jonsson is a believer in the CrossFit training method. Her 5-foot-4, 150-pound body -- adorned with colorful tattoos -- is sculpted with lean muscle. Speaking extensively about the legal fight for the first time, Jonsson added some details about her life while sitting in her attorney's office.
She grew up in a supportive family environment in the South Bay. She said her father knew "I was a girl from when I was 5 years old." Bullied throughout junior high and then in high school, Jonsson told her parents at age 15 that she identified as being a girl.
"No one was really shocked," Jonsson said. "They were just waiting for me to tell them that my body didn't match what I was on the inside. My mom took immediate action, getting me to see a therapist. I moved to a different high school and transitioned."
Already taking female hormones, she underwent surgery eight years ago. Today, her driver's license, Social Security card and even birth certificate identify her as female.
Last spring, she planned to enter a CrossFit competition team event. With her permission, a teammate sent an anonymous email to the company to make sure there would be no problem with Jonsson registering as a woman.
"I never thought they would say no, but I did think that they might need some documentation," Jonsson said. "We were making sure we had crossed all of our 't's' and dotted our 'i's.'"
But CrossFit said she must compete as a male. In a letter provided by McCoy, CrossFit's general counsel, Dale Saran, wrote that the company has "nothing but respect and support for Cholie's decision and how she sees herself." But CrossFit also is "scrupulous about ensuring a level playing field" for competitors.
"The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has a genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological advantage over women," the letter added.
Not true, said Carroll, a former college basketball coach and athletic director.
"The physical changes that take place is the transgender women loses muscle mass and has to work even harder than other women athletes," Carroll said. "In a sport like CrossFit, the transgender woman is not in any kind of competitive advantage."
Jonsson said she decided to file the suit, which is asking for $2.5 million in damages, because it would be "preposterous" for her to compete in a category "that you don't identify with and don't even look like."
She continues to train at a CrossFit gym and has been encouraged by messages of support. But Jonsson said she wishes she could have quietly competed like any other CrossFit athlete.
"This has been a huge shock to my system because the reality is many do have negative feelings about people like me," she said. "So for 18 years I've had to shield myself from that. But now I'm realizing there's no more shield."
Follow Mark Emmons at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.
International Olympic Committee: Athletes can compete after gender reassignment surgery and two years of hormone replacement therapy.
NCAA: College athletes who transition are required to wait one year while receiving testosterone suppression treatment.
California Interscholastic Federation: High school athletes can compete based on their gender identity, not on what is listed on their school records.
Sources: California Interscholastic Federation, NCAA and Helen Carroll of National Center for Lesbian Rights