HAWTHORNE, N.Y. -- For Kerri Nicole McCaffrey, media attention to Bruce Jenner's transition to Caitlyn has been a blessing and a curse.
McCaffrey, 51, grew up in Hawthorne, not far from Jenner's early stomping grounds in Sleepy Hollow. As a former assistant high school track and swim team coach while teaching at a New Jersey high school, "Herb" McCaffrey made waves when his sex change to "Kerri" became public a decade ago.
Westchester's historic sites and literature made it a wonderful place to grow up despite getting bullied for wearing nail polish and bracelets at Hawthorne Elementary School and Columbus Avenue School, McCaffrey. For many years, he felt: "I'm a woman and I'm in prison."
Herb McCaffrey grew up on Beverly Road and could climb over Buttermilk Hill to get to Sleepy Hollow, Kykuit and Raven Rock.
"There was a Dominican Convent in our backyard which had acres of raspberries and apples, but which has now been razed and replaced by the office park along Route 9A,'' McCaffrey told Daily Voice. "When I was 11, we moved to New Jersey, but my memories of Hawthorne, Sleepy Hollow and Westchester always find their way into my writing."
"I feel that 'magic' is still in the area and can be reached by all of us if we try. My first book was called 'Sleepy Hollow to New Hampshire -- and Walpack In-Between.' The poetry helped me heal."
Midway through his 2004-2005 school year, McCaffrey flew to Montreal to change from “Herb” to “Kerri," creating a firestorm in the Mendham Borough School District near New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's residence.
Today, McCaffrey teaches fifth-grade language arts while coaching softball and cross country at Mountain View Middle School, where colleagues, parents and students are increasingly supportive. Transgender teachers nationwide regularly seek advice about making the transition, McCaffrey said. Publicity about Caitlyn Jenner has raised public acceptance, McCaffrey said, but also dredged up the emotional roller coaster that "Kerri" and her loved ones have endured.
McCaffrey has two sons, ages 20 and 18, and says the transformation is difficult on families. "The wives who marry us -- they're just as hurting,'' McCaffrey said. "It's hard on spouses. This is not easy for parents."
When professional tennis star Renee Richards made news headlines after a sex change operation, McCaffrey considered disclosing his struggle to his parents -- until Richards lost to Chris Evert in 1979.
"Poetry has helped me to heal, and thankfully, so has the happy childhood base which Mount Pleasant gave me,'' she said.
A documentary titled "Individual Medley," which chronicles McCaffrey's life from childhood to the present -- including competitive swimming in high school and college -- is expected to be released by Fence Sitter Films next year.
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