The Strength to be Yourself

How transgender bodybuilder Janae Marie Kroc is helping to lift transgender athletes to new heights

BY EMELL DERRA ADOLPHUS

In the annals of history's hard bodies, bodybuilder Matthew "Kroc" Kroczaleski will always be known as one of the strongest men in the world. After serving time in the marines from 1991 to 1995, and as part of presidential security duty under President Bill Clinton, Kroc went on to set records in powerlifting and trademarked "kroc rows"-- a tough-as-nails series of high intensity, heavy weight dumbbell rows that would even make Terminator-era Arnold Schwarzenegger quiver.

Yet even as the "manliest of the manly men," as Kroc once put it, Kroc had strength but never felt strong until last year when transitioning into her true self as Janae Marie Kroc.

"The funny thing is, I had two strong desires from a young age: One was a passion for strength training. The other one was always the feeling that I was supposed to be a girl," says Kroc, 43.

In July 2015, Kroc was outed as transgender. Rather than to continue to deny the truth, Kroc decided to start the journey to become Janae, a journey she had struggled with since childhood.

"I grew up in a very masculine environment. I was the oldest of three boys. My mom was a complete tomboy. I had no female friends. And I grew up in a small rural area where it was very close-minded," Kroc remembers. With two seemingly opposing desires, Kroc put the journey to becoming Janae on hold. The decision, Kroc explained, was made easy growing up in an intolerable environment in rural Michigan.

"I remember being 5 or 6 years old and being terrified that someone would find out how I felt. I couldn't say anything about it, knowing it wouldn't be received well. So it was just something I thought about constantly, nonstop all day, every day. And I really wasn't able to start exploring (becoming a woman) until many years later."

After initially telling the mother of her three sons about her desire to transition and not receiving support - "She was supportive at first, but that didn't last very long," says Kroc - Kroc went back to repressing her feelings and did not start to revisit them until about 10 years after their marriage ended.

Once she was outed, Kroc said she wanted to take control of what would happen next. "At that point I started estrogen therapy and decided to transition," says Kroc.

As part of her transition processes, Kroc had already an orchiectomy (as a result of testicular cancer), facial feminization surgery, and dropped 70 pounds of muscle to mimic society's views of a "feminine" frame. But then she quickly gained 50 pounds of muscle back after she began missing the strength she had worked so hard to gain.

"I was really missing the gym," says Kroc, who decided that big and strong will just have to be a part of Janae's package.

Kroc, who spends time living as both genders, still considers herself transgender but tends to lean toward non-binary and gender fluid when it comes to pronouns.

"Some days I am more masculine. Some days I'm more feminine," says Kroc, who now says she just wants to enjoy the perks of being at peace with who she is.

"At this point I am training hard," says Kroc, who is also writing and working on a documentary about her life as a powerlifter. "The challenge now is kind of juggling everything and finding a balance with it."

She adds, "The best thing about being 100 percent 'out' now is being involved with all these things that I have wanted to be involved with."

And now Kroc feels stronger than ever.

Follow Adolphus on Twitter @EmellDerraAdolf.
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