When Nikki Hiltz came out as transgender non-binary in 2021, they found themselves at an inflection point in their running career. Hiltz’s sponsorship with Adidas would end in December, and the options before them were clear: retire early or find another avenue to continue competing at the pinnacle of the sport.
On Saturday evening, Hiltz won their first national title at the USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hiltz, now sponsored by lululemon, won the women’s 1500m final in a time of 4:17.10, making them the first openly non-binary runner to win a US Track and Field championship title.
In the 1500m race, Hiltz went head-to-head with Sage Hurta-Klecker, a two-time NCAA indoor champion. The runners fought against another challenger, as well—the 5,300 feet of elevation in Albuquerque. With less oxygen available at high altitude, the championship race took off at a more subdued pace. Hurta-Klecker led the pack with one lap to go but at the final straight-away, Hiltz found a second gear to finish first with a final lap of 28.47 seconds. Hurta-Klecker finished second in 4:17.26.
The year prior, Hiltz competed at the same event without a sponsor, crowdfunding just to be able to toe the line. In an eggshell blue singlet that read “Protect Trans Kids,” Hiltz finished in sixth place at the 2022 championship.
They consider their ability to compete as an openly non-binary athlete an important step for transgender visibility. Hiltz trains in Flagstaff, Arizona, which outlawed gender affirming care for minors and banned transgender athletes from competing on girls’ sports teams in 2022. State legislatures in 18 states currently uphold similar laws banning transgender students from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, with 29 states introducing bills with similar language in 2022.
“I hope every trans person watching this weekend felt a little more seen, heard, and represented in sports,” Hiltz said in a Feb. 12 Instagram post.
With their first national title under their belt, Hiltz now gears up for their upcoming outdoor season before next year’s US Olympic Trials. Should Hiltz find themselves in the top three for the 1500m next June, they would be the first openly non-binary runner to compete at the Olympics during the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France. Hiltz has dedicated their career to promoting trans rights, and the opportunity to compete on the highest stage the sport has to offer would not only be career-defining, but history-making for transgender representation in sports.