(NEW YORK) — Team USA middle-distance runner Nikki Hiltz discusses their journey to the 2024 Paris Olympics and their LGBTQ+ advocacy after coming out as transgender and nonbinary.

Hiltz came out as a nonbinary, transgender person right before the Olympic trials in 2021. They wanted to walk away from the sport in 2021 after expecting a weight to be lifted. But it was the opposite. Hiltz mentioned that they didn’t set out to be an advocate for LGBTQ rights, but were forced into the spotlight after coming out as trans-nonbinary.

Having qualified for the Olympics on Sunday, Hiltz is now fully focused on the next goal.

ABC News sat down with Hiltz on qualifying for the Olympics and the recent media attention they received.

ABC NEWS: Mid-distance runner Nikki Hiltz is headed to the Olympic Games this summer in Paris, all while fighting an endurance race on another front. A forthcoming documentary about Nikki explains why.

ABC NEWS: Thanks so much for joining us, Nikki. You said after that race, you thought you were saying goodbye to your Olympic dreams. Then on Sunday you qualified for the Olympics in the 1500 meters, taking the lead in the last 60 meters at the finish line. You earned the second fastest time by an American runner ever. Walk us through that feeling. Walk us through this journey of yours.

NIKKI HILTZ: Yeah. I mean, you said it perfectly. It’s, it’s definitely been a journey. At the end of the last Olympic trials in 2021, I, like you said, I wanted to walk away from the sport completely. And, you know, I just, I just changed a lot of things in my life and showed some patience. And then, yeah, the hard work all paid off, and. yeah, that feeling was just joy when I crossed the finish line.

ABC NEWS: I bet you’ve said that you didn’t really set out to be an advocate for LGBTQ rights, but were forced into the spotlight after coming out as trans nonbinary. Why is that visibility so important to you?

HILTZ: Yeah. I mean, I just feel so grateful for all the queer and trans people who have come before me. And so now it’s kind of like, I want to be that for the next generation. And yeah, it’s it’s hard to be something that you can’t see. And so I just think representation and visibility is what helped me so much growing up. So, yeah, I just want to do that for even just one kid who watches the Olympics, maybe sees themselves in me, like it’ll be all worth it.

ABC NEWS: Representation certainly does matter. Now, if you can imagine a perfect future in which your sport and professional sports broadly embraces athletes of all gender identities, what changes would that require?

HILTZ:  Yeah. I mean, it’s just an ongoing conversation. For me, just a lot more inclusive language has been really helpful. You know, announcers, broadcasters using my correct pronouns, referring to, you know, people in my event as, “Here are the athletes competing in the women’s 1500” instead of, “Here are the women 1500 runners.”

Just little changes like that I think we can all do, to yeah, just make spaces and sports just a safer place for all and allowing everyone to show up as themselves. Because when we can show up as ourselves, that’s when, you know, our dreams can come true.

ABC NEWS: Absolutely. So what would you say to those who say it’s unfair for trans women to compete in women’s sports, and vice versa? What would be your message to those folks?

HILTZ: I would encourage people to educate themselves. You know, the guidelines that are in place now, a trans woman can’t compete until they’ve taken, I think it’s a year or more of HRT, which is hormone replacement therapy. And, you know, it’s, I think it’s a fair guideline. And, yeah, I think there’s a lot of ignorance right now. As someone who has competed in women’s sports my entire career, there’s a lot of issues in it, but trans woman is not one of them, and I don’t think that we need protecting from them.

ABC NEWS: You’ve worked so hard to get to the Olympics in Paris. It is coming up. How are you feeling ahead of these games and what are you most excited about?

HILTZ: Yeah, just focus on the next goal. And I think I’m really excited for the opening ceremonies. You know, I tried on all the Ralph Lauren stuff a couple of days ago, and, yeah, that just really got me excited to just be in Paris and and meet other members of Team USA across all the different many sports.

ABC NEWS: Such a wonderful experience. We are so excited to see you compete. We hope to have you back on soon. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and really best of luck to you in Paris.

HILTZ: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

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