While playing in men’s professional volleyball leagues in Europe, heavy-hitting Brazilian player Tiffany Abreu accumulated dozens of trophies.

But she says that among her most important accolades was being named most valuable player for a match with a countryside team Tuesday night as rain leaked from the roof in a half empty gymnasium.

“I had two of those (MVP) awards playing in the men’s league. But this is a special one,” Abreu told The Associated Press in an interview after the match. “I didn’t even know until recently that I could play volleyball again.”

Abreu, 33, is the first transgender athlete in Brazil’s Superliga , the country’s top women’s volleyball tournament. She is sure to turn heads in Brazil, Latin America’s most populous nation that has often struggled to curb violence against gay and transgender people.

Abreu’s first game as a starter Tuesday was a strong effort: she had 25 points for Volei Bauru in its 3-sets-to-1 victory over Pinheiros.

Abreu played in men’s leagues in Brazil, Portugal, France, Indonesia, Spain, France, Holland and Belgium. In 2012, the volleyball player decided to stop her career and become a woman.

In Italy, She went through hormonal treatment to control the levels of testosterone in her blood stream, had sex reassignment surgery and changed all her previous identification to her new name.

 

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