Dawson LaRance didn’t want to leave the place where he made lifelong friends and thrived as an openly gay man — never mind All-American track star. But his hand was forced.

Earlier this semester, the University of Minnesota announced it was slashing its varsity men’s track and field team, along with two other varsity clubs. The school cited budgetary shortfalls due to the Covid-19 pandemic as one of the catalysts for the decision, as well as Title IX requirements.

LaRance and his teammates didn’t take the school’s explanation at face value. They organized a campaign to save their team, including an athletes’ march to the president’s house. Last month, the board of regents at Minnesota agreed to spare men’s cross country and outdoor track, but still nixed the indoor team.

For LaRance, it was a half-baked solution.

“Any sort of gain is huge, and it showed we were successful to some degree,” he told me in a phone call. “At the same time, I was like, ‘it’s kind of shady for a last-minute proposal to save outdoor, just because you’re under a lot of heat.’ I think that actually tells a lot.”

LaRance will transfer to Colorado State University next spring, where he’ll run outdoor track, indoor track and cross country for the next two seasons. Though LaRance is a senior, he’s been granted two more seasons of NCAA eligibility, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He will start his Master’s for public policy and administration at CSU next spring as well.

“There were so many things pulling me to Colorado State,” he said. “Ultimately, it came down to Minnesota and CSU. Do I stay here where I’ve built all of these great connections, or do I take this next step in my life where I think it could be really positive and beneficial, and go into the new year into this new situation and start this next chapter in my life?”

After Minnesota announced the cuts, LaRance says he thought transferring was his only option, and it was, if he wanted to retain his scholarship and keep running. The process was stressful and time-consuming, and LaRance still hasn’t visited CSU’s campus. He’ll make his first trip to Fort Collins, Colo. when he moves in at the start of the semester.

While the process was intense, LaRance recognizes he was lucky to have flexibility.

“I’m very blessed and very privileged in a lot of ways,” he said. “I have options. Some people don’t. That calmed me down a little bit, even though it was a stressful time.”

At CSU, LaRance will join a robust community for LGBTQ athletes. Recently, Outsports profiled queer CSU track star Kamal-Craig Golaube, who started the school’s LGBTQ athlete ally group.

Still, it hurts to leave Minnesota behind. LaRance also started an advocacy group for LGBTQ athletes on campus, and it grew to roughly 15 members. Minnesota is one of at least 12 schools to end its track or cross country programs or both.

The move will save about $630,000 — or less than one percent of the school’s previously estimated $75 million loss in athletic revenue.

When LaRance arrived to Minneapolis from rural Montana, he grew into the proud gay man he’s always wanted to be. He credits track and field for giving him the confidence to be his true self.

LaRance hopes to take all of that confidence west, where he’s poised to compete and make a difference.

“I’ve grown a lot myself, and I’ve explored how I can be in these spaces, and empower others in these spaces to be themselves as well,” he said. “ I’m very thankful I was welcomed into a space where I felt safe to do that.”