Nikki Hiltz discovered their gender identity by running in silence, between the footsteps of both feet, and in those moments when they are flying for a millisecond.
Since Hiltz was a young child who ran on the beach naked foot while participating in lifeguard training, running has been a part of their lives. It eventually became a profession that led to them reaching the world championships.
Hiltz created their Pride 5k after all their races were canceled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was to provide a place for LGBTQ people and raise money for The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization that provides 24/7 crisis counseling for LGBTQ youth.
Hiltz said that she was open about her sexuality at the time, but not about her gender identity.
“And so, I think, deep down I was just an openly queer person trying to create a safe space to allow people to come out as themselves and subconsciously creating that space for myself to do the same.
Hiltz claims that nearly 2,000 people participated in Pride 5k from various locations. At least four people used the day publicly to come out as queer. Later, Hiltz recorded podcasts to share their stories.
Hiltz states that hearing stories of people coming out or connecting with someone who is hiding something and then getting to share it, was what gave me the final push to say, “OK, I think it’s time to come out,” Hiltz said.
Hiltz describes it as a “full circle moment” and they publicly identified themselves as transgender on March 31, 2021, Transgender Day of Visibility – just nine months after the first Pride 5k race.
They wrote on Instagram that their transgender identity meant they don’t identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. “My gender is currently described as non-binary. My gender can be described as fluid.
This is exciting and scary, but I believe vulnerability and visibility are vital in creating acceptance and social change. Here I am again coming out of my closet to be my authentic self.
“Such an easy bridge”
Hiltz graduated from high school and was awarded a scholarship to Oregon. Later, Hiltz transferred to Arkansas to run for the University of Arkansas. They placed second in the 1,500m women’s race at the NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships 2017.
These results earned Hiltz a professional contract, and they were qualified to represent Team USA at World Athletics Championships one year later.
Hiltz, who came out as transgender and non-binary after her transition, continues to compete in the women’s division.
Hiltz shared the following Instagram post: “As a nonbinary athlete, it’s easy for me to feel out of place.”
“It’s sometimes difficult to be the only one on the starting line who uses they/them pronouns.
After running the “worst” race at the US championships, Hiltz changed their minds and won victories in many mile races.
Through all the ups and downs of professional athletic life, Hiltz maintains a core of the joy and competitiveness they experienced running as children. This is because they have created a sports community.
They say that runners are “the strangest people but the friendliest and best friends”.
“I have never received support or love from my competitors regarding my gender and sexuality. I knew it would be an easy bridge to say, “OK, let’s do a Pride parade, 5k, and combine them.”
Hiltz and their partner have set about organizing this race with Pride. It will now be held in Flagstaff, Arizona. If runners preferred, they were still welcome to run from distant locations.
Hiltz laughs, “You know, it’s not my business to put on an in-person race.”
This is my goal. I’m not an event manager but a professional runner. My partner and I are. We’re still trying to figure it all out. There have been some hiccups with the road closures and bib orders, but that’s another obstacle we must overcome.
Yemane Haileselassie, an Olympic steeplechase runner, won the race in Flagstaff on October 6, with a time of 14:22. Dani Shanahan won the women’s race in 16:52.
Breanna Cornell, the winner of the nonbinary race, informed Hiltz that she and her husband would use the $2,000 check to start a Trevor Project club at high school. This was in addition to the $37,000 raised by the event for charity.
Pride events can have a lot of partying and drinking, which can be very fun. Hiltz says that Pride is a great representation of the LGBTQ community.
“But when you consider the trauma and the substance abuse that many LGBTQ people have gone through, I think it is amazing to create a space that celebrates Pride but also allows us to get outside and exercise our bodies, and does something healthy and enjoyable.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says it is not possible to establish long-term trends regarding substance abuse in LGBTQ populations due to the lack of research. However, the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that individuals who identify as lesbians, gays, or bisexuals reported greater substance use than those who identify as heterosexual.
“Why are we passing this whole law?”
Even though Hiltz’s Pride 5k aims to make the sport more inclusive, it becomes increasingly difficult for transgender athletes, especially transgender women to compete in categories that are consistent with their gender identity.
Individual sporting federations at the elite level have adopted a variety of policies toward transgender athletes ever since the International Olympic Committee (IOC), announced its non-legally binding framework for November 2021.
According to the IOC, no athlete should be exempted from competition because of sex variations or transgender status. It was up to individual sporting federations whether an athlete is at a disproportionate disadvantage.
Some governing bodies, such as the International Swimming Federation and the International Cycling Union (UCI), have restricted transgender women’s participation. Others, like the German FA, allow transgender and other non-binary athletes to select a team.
According to data gathered by The New York Times, and the Human Rights Campaign, 18 states in America have tried to increase these bans and banned transgender girls and women from participating in youth sports that are consistent with their gender identity.
“It is really sad that all these policies have been passed and are being pushed. It’s a blatant issue. Hiltz states that she has never raced trans women in her life.
“And in Utah, there were four trans children and only one was a trans girl,” they say, referring to a March law that GOP lawmakers passed after the Republican governor was overruled by GOP lawmakers. Spencer Cox vetoed a bill banning transgender women from participating on girls’ and women’s sports teams.
Republican politicians claimed transgender women had physical advantages over cisgender females, but a 2017 review in the journal Sports Medicine found that there was no consistent or direct research.
Hiltz asks, “Why do we pass this entire law for the whole state when it only affects one little girl trying to play soccer with her friends?”
“I believe if you look at the situation, trans women don’t dominate sports. They’re just trying to… play, just like other kids who want to play with their friends.”
A Utah judge issued a preliminary injunction five months later allowing transgender girls to participate on girls’ teams “only when it’s fair, confidentially determined and determined by a commission created by the legislature.”
Hiltz says, “We raise money for the Trevor Project,” Hiltz continues.
“It’s not surprising that queer people are more likely to commit suicide, especially when society tells them: ‘You don’t belong here if you can’t play sports.
The traditional gender binary in which sport was divided is being challenged by the increased visibility of transgender and non-binary athletes.
Hiltz came out last year as transgender and non-binary. She has been in contact with race directors and announcers to discuss making running more inclusive.
“When people call me race and then apologize for it, I cannot just say, “Oh, no worries. It’s okay.” They claim.
“It has had its awkward moments. It has been rewarding overall.
Three major marathon cities – Boston and London – joined forces with the New York Marathon to become the most prominent races to add a non-binary event division to their programs.
Hiltz says, “You train for months or years for [a marathon]” and that at least you should be able to register for the race that matches your gender.
“I believe it’s really powerful to view… and it’s going to create more space for people to be themselves.”