Nikki Hiltz began a week in Iowa by taking home their second national title of the season in the USATF Road 1-Mile Championship.
At the rainy Drake Relays women’s 1500 meter-race, they took another step in what could be a special year.
In their first outdoor 1500 event of the season, Hiltz took home gold at 4:09.02, outpacing the second- and third-place finishers, Simone Plourde and Helen Schlachtenhaufen.
“It’s been kind of a long week in Iowa but I feel like I live here now,” Hiltz joked to reporters after the win Saturday. “It’s a good stepping stone with USAs in July. It’s a really good start with this being my first 1500 outdoor so I’m really happy with it.”
Their win on the track mirrored their win on the Des Moines streets. Read the pace, stay close to the leaders, then strike in the final 400 meters.
Hiltz’s strategy for Saturday was the same all the way to the bell lap, when they made their move from second to first and onto Drake Relays gold.
“I took the lead earlier than I thought I would, but I felt some surge to want to go first,” they said. “It’s fun to try new things this early in the season and I felt each 100 meters I could go faster.”
Change, and the willingness to embrace change, has been a constant Hiltz for the last two competitive seasons. A catalyst for their current success was the pandemic-shortened season of 2020 and a year of self discovery.
On Transgender Day of Visibility in 2021, Hiltz came out as trans and nonbinary.
“I’m openly out and I’m feeling I’m not carrying that weight around anymore” they said Saturday. “People in the track world use my pronouns. I feel light and I’m free and I’m good.”
In early 2022, they shook up their training regimen by moving to Arizona and working with national champion cross-country coach Mike Smith. A year of training at higher altitude beefed up Hiltz’s main weakness: their aerobic capacity.
Hiltz’s enhanced strength and pace caught some eyes including those from Lululemon, who became their new sponsor.
Their breakthrough moment came at USA Track and Field Indoor Nationals in February. Hiltz’s final lap surge netted their win at 1500 meters, and history.
Hiltz became the first out nonbinary USATF national champ.
The one constant through seasons of change has been Hiltz’s steadfast support of trans people, especially trans youth. Iowa is among a number of states that have passed efforts such as limits on gender-affirming health care and bans on transgender students from participating in school athletics.
The sight of Hiltz’s surge in the final meters of their win last Monday was adorned in rainbow flags waved by a besieged community cheering on one of their own. “
The amount of pride flags really brought me home,” they said in a post-race interview with Citius Mag.
Hiltz cited Iowa’s LGBTQ community as an inspiration for their week.
“To me, queer people in the community were so grateful and thankful I was here,” they said. “I’m grateful to them. They are the ones being here and living here and fighting back.
“Trans people live in Iowa and they deserve access to healthcare and access to sports,” they continued. “It meant more being in a state where there is so much hateful legislation.”
Hiltz also notes the brighter side of sports as advocacy. It’s a message they hope to promote, alongside building toward an outdoor national title and a berth on Team USA for the World Athletics Championships in Hungary in August.
“I feel like my role into how I like to approach things is bring the light and bring the joy,” they said. “I feel like I just want to spread some hope and the community here in Iowa has been so good to me the past week. I want that for every single trans person that lives here.”