When world-class runner Nikki Hiltz came out publicly as gay earlier this year, she had already been out to friends and family, including her teammates at the Univ. of Arkansas. She was, after all, dating her teammate and fellow 1500-meter competitor, Therese Haiss.

So when she found out that fulfilling one of her life-long dreams — competing in a World Championship — was going to take place in Qatar, which outlaws homosexuality, she was at first a little taken aback.

Yet her drive to fulfill that life-long dream kept her locked in on being who she truly was so that she could compete at the highest level.

“I was just focusing on making that team more than anything,” she tells me on the latest episode of the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast. “After I made the team, definitely I thought about it more and was like, what am I going to do with this, what does it mean?

“So going into the championships I just decided that in order for me to run my best I have to be myself. That’s what I’ve discovered. So I didn’t have any plans of going back into the closet once I was in Qatar. And I was just going to be myself. I knew my girlfriend was going to come over with me. I was going to hug her and hold her hands.”

They did hug, but as Hiltz shared on Twitter before her trip, she did what was comfortable for herself so as not to create a situation where fulfilling her lifelong dream might become a nightmare:

Hiltz achieved another goal, making it to the final heat at the World Championships, but her finals performance left her wanting more. Now she aims at making her first Olympic team and competing in Tokyo next summer.

She opens up about all of that in our Five Rings To Rule Them All conversation. She also shares her unique insights dating and living with Haiss, as the two compete with one another in the same event. Her recounting of how that all played out on their Univ. of Arkansas team should be an inspiration to other LGBTQ college athletes.

“We share the highs and the lows together,” she says on the podcast. “It is really special just because racing is such a little percentage of our lives as runners but a majority of our life is spent training. And when you can have a training partner who’s also your significant other it’s special.”

Check out my conversation with Hiltz: