“I saw my sister race today. Walking out on the mondo. Blocks in sight. “My sisters in lane seven. Just a girl, and your thoughts revving up for the fight” — “I Saw My Sister Race Today” by Karleigh Webb

I wrote those words in June 2019. They became part of a poem that I’ve performed a few times. They are a tribute to piece of shared history. A history that is Black and trans.

There is a great deal of black and brown in the azure-salmon-cream that adorns transgender life, pride and resistance. From Marsha P. Johnson at Stonewall, to Monica Roberts in the blogosphere, to Laverne Cox on the red carpet, “Black Trans Girl Magic” has shown triumph through trauma.

February is Black history month. With that in mind and with the recent examples of how some refuse to acknowledge humanity of trans people, some of whom are also Black people, I want to look at a piece of recent history that many missed, and what that history meant to me.

It began with an email

I only knew of her from online news items in the beginning, many of them fear-based clickbait. I followed the story of a kid that who was a few hours away, and yet a world and a couple of generations away.

She was a young black trans woman racing hard at a tiny college in New Hampshire in preparation for the biggest meet of her indoor season. It was March 2019, and NCAA Division II Indoors was approaching.

I was at an awards banquet in New Haven, Conn., A mentor and friend who works with young trans people, Tony Ferraiolo, asked me to email a young college athlete who, as he put it, “is trans and really going through a lot right now.”

I answered, “Sure, I’ll send them an email. Who is this person?”

His next words, “You’ve heard of a kid named CeCé Telfer?”

I emailed her that night with a few words of encouragement.

“I saw you perform earlier this year and it was pleasing to see someone who is Black like me AND Trans like me not only stepping up to the starting line, but stepping forward and doing well.”

I’d figured she wouldn’t have the time to get back to me. I was wrong.

“This just gave me life!!”

As you read this, remember those words.

To hear back from her picked up my mood. I was at a lull in trying to figure out my next path as a professional and as a person. I was trying to figure out who I was and where I fit just like she was. For her, it was for the first time, and for me, for the second.

It was Saturday March 9, 2019. Pittsburg State University, Kansas. NCAA Division II women’s 60-meter hurdle final. I was watching from my home computer with the NCAA streaming video set to show the race.

I could see her tension. I could feel it for the both of us.

Cece finish sixth at D-II Indoors, but earned All-American honors

She didn’t get out the blocks well. She struggled to finish sixth. I could see the disappointment on her face. I wished I could have reached through the screen just to give her a hug and congratulate her.

She had scored a point for FPU, and was an NCAA All-American.

The ride didn’t end there. This ride was just starting.

Sisters rising together

“Living on streams. Watching the dreams while I chase my own dreams. Imagining the silent screams as the chattering classes doubt the lasses like me in the insults they shout.”

I kept up with her as the outdoor season began, and as I began my own season as well with running, multi events and softball on the side. I’ll admit freely, I’m nowhere near elite level.

She was keeping up with me, too. We supported each other through the pain of long runs and 400-meter hurdles — and the pain of dysphoria, doubt, and the constant drone of the derision from those who refuse to see our humanity.

We shared a great deal of our fears in those emails. Her pushing through running a different event, the 400-meter hurdles, while deflecting the online taunts and insults. Me, pushing through, waiting out the next steps of my own emergence, and then a three-month wait to claim my name.

She lifted me up with her performance. CeCé went to the Florida Relays in March, won her heat and finished third overall while holding her own against major-college talent.

She got on a hot streak all the way to the Northeast 10 Conference championships, where she put on a show. She swept both the 100-meter and 400-meter hurdles, and won 400 meters as well to be named Most Outstanding Performer of the meet.

Three golds and named Most Outstanding Performer at NE-10 championships

Seeing her beat all-comers recharged my own workouts, and my own life. I was well into training for races of my own as she was heading to the climax of the season. I was proud of her and, in a sense, in a friendly competition with a person I was considering to be like a sister to me. She did well, so I had to.

Inspired by CeCé, I PR my duo and then helped my ballclub get a win.

Two weeks later, I did. It was a morning run-bike-run that ended in a PR. After that, I helped my softball team win their first game ever as a team! I emailed her from my smartphone at the softball field, dirty, tired and feeling perfect.

She answered my email from a plane headed south to NCAA Division II Nationals in Kingsville, Texas. It was May 20, 2019.

“Karleigh!! I love love that and I love you! You’re doing great! Now it’s my turn! I’m currently on the plane visualizing my execution for the 400mh and 100mh. Can’t wait for it to be all over.”

Three days later. I sat in a probate court in Connecticut. One long run was over. My name change was finalized. I felt like I could fly. That night my sister would begin her quest, and she flew, too.

CeCé Telfer put on another show by dominating her preliminary heat in the 400 hurdles. She told me that she didn’t want to leave any doubt in the prelims.

I spent that weekend celebrating my new name by playing on a select squad from a Memorial Day softball tournament in Philadelphia. Even as I hit, ran and fielded for the Southern New England Friendship League, my thoughts were on my “sister” down in Texas.

Making History

“You couldn’t stop my sister. Tearing down like a twister. I was in a Lyft with an iPad. No way was I gonna miss her…”

I was in the backseat of a Lyft with two of my softball teammates, headed to a trendy downtown Philly spot for dinner. I had my iPad locked on the NCAA’s video stream live from Texas A&M-Kingsville. It was a balmy Saturday night: May 25, 2019

She took off like rocket. In the first 200 meters, you could tell it was her race, and by 300 meters, there was no doubt. CeCé Telfer had grabbed a national championship by the throat. You could see it in her face. The doubts. The slights. The uncertainty. The pain of being away from the sport and the joy of loving it again. It was in her face. It was in her legs. It was in her power down that last straightaway.

After 57.53 seconds, it was over.

I saw her smile on a victory podium in Texas, matching my big smile in Philadelphia, along with happy tears.

CeCé Telfer: National Champion

“I plan to meet my sister soon. Perhaps in a bistro, Pride in my eyes. I’ll tell my sister what it meant to see a girl like me grabbing hold of the prize.”

The meeting happened a few days after Christmas, at an IHOP in Connecticut with shared smiles, shared tears, and selfies.

Meeting the champion: Joy. Tears. Selfies.

It’s been said that one should never meet their heroes. I beg to differ. I was glad to meet a hero and a champion and tell her what she meant to a fortysomething weekend athlete/journalist. To tell her what she meant to an entire community under siege.

One of my friends chirped that I was “fangirling” in my selfie.

You darn right I was! Thanks, CeCé.