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Flagstaff’s Nikki Hiltz shines on and off track

These days, Hiltz has been making waves in two areas: in the 1,500m on the track and as a role model for the queer community outside of it all.

EUGENE, Ore. — As Nikki Hiltz took a victory lap celebrating her long-awaited Olympic appearance, a few fans reached out to hand their favorite 1,500-meter runner a bracelet, and the runner was doing it in part for them.

Recently, Hilts Transgender and non-binary peopleHiltz is a two-faced athlete: on the track, she's one of the world's best middle-distance runners, about to head to Paris, and off the track, she serves as a role model for the queer community. Having always competed in the women's division, Hiltz uses the pronouns “they” and “them” and urges people to get used to it because they're not going anywhere.

“I'm looking forward to continuing to be myself and continue to be a presence,” Hiltz, 29, said at the U.S. Track and Field Trials on Sunday after qualifying for her first Olympic Games. “I use the pronoun 'they,' so people always trip me up. But it's like, 'You can't ignore me anymore. I'm a two-time champion in a row. I'm here. Let's do it.'”

That was exactly what Hiltz's race plan was last Sunday. They got off to a fast start, closed on the leaders and then took off at the end. Hiltz ran a personal best and meet record time of 3:55.33, beating Emily McKay and Elle St. Pierre by less than a second.

Looking back at the 2021 Olympic Trials, things didn't go as planned, with him finishing last in the final, won by St. Pierre.

“I've put in a ton of work since then,” Hiltz says. “A lot of mental work, and of course physical work. It's been a journey.”

Three months before her trial in 2021, Hiltz's life began to change: In a social media post, they announced, “I'm Nikki. I'm transgender.”

The American record holder in the women's mile recalled: March 31, 2021It was a day when friends, family, fans, and even rivals got to see the real Hilts.

As the Hiltzes prepare to run in Paris next month, they know they're not just running for themselves: They're also athletes and LGBTQ+ advocates in a world where transgender participation in sports has become one of society's most divisive and contentious issues.

“I definitely give a lot of my time and energy to the queer community and its advocates,” Hiltz said in an interview before the World Championships last summer in Budapest, Hungary. “But I do it because I get so much in return. Every time I meet a non-binary person in the queer community, I feel like they give me even more representation. They always say I do it for them, but I think representation is a two-way street and it definitely empowers me.”

Competing in the women's division, Hiltz does not pose the same challenges that transgender women face.

Two years ago, Swimmer Leah Thomas She became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship, sparking new policies across the sports world.

World Aquatics effectively bans transgender women from competing in women's events, and World Athletics, athletics' governing body, has long grappled with various incarnations of the issue.

last year, Implemented stricter rules For intersex athletes who have differences in sexual development. Caster SemenyaThe two-time gender-neutral Olympic 800m champion Currently out of competitionShe says she will not undergo the medical and surgical procedures necessary to compete under new rules that would bar her from all sports unless she undergoes six months of hormone suppression treatment before competing.

“The overarching principle for me is to always do what we think is best for our sport,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said last year.

For Hilts, it always comes down to inclusivity.

“As someone who has competed in women's sports my whole life, I think we need to be protected, but I don't think it's from transgender women,” Hiltz said last summer, “I think it's from abusive coaches. Or there are a lot of other issues, like equal representation and equal pay.”

“It's these issues that I want to address, not just transgender women's issues, because we've never had to defend them before.”

Each Hilts Organize 5K Race Support LGBTQ+ organizations, whose motto is “A shared determination to show that there is a place for us wherever we are.”

“I want to continue working to create a place for everyone,” Hiltz said.

In track and field, Hiltz had an outstanding performance last summer, running 4 minutes 16.35 seconds to break the long-standing American mile record set by Mary Slaney in 1985.

This season, they're picking up even more speed and heading to a bigger stage: the Paris Olympics.

They secured a spot in athletics at the University of Oregon, where Hiltz's college career began (they Then to Arkansas Hiltz recalled sneaking into Hayward Field with friends during his freshman year in Eugene and sitting in his truck, daydreaming.

“I remember thinking, 'One day I'm going to make it here,'” Hiltz recalled of his move to the high altitude of Flagstaff, Arizona. “Somewhere in my mind, I thought, 'I want to win a race here, and I want to win a big one.'”

“I'm very blessed,” Hiltz said last Sunday. “I have an amazing support system. My family has always accepted me when I came out about my sexual orientation and when I came out about my gender identity. I know a lot of queer people don't have that kind of love and support.”

AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-Paris-Olympics

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