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Scottie Nelson finishes U.S. Olympic marathon trial, a milestone for world’s biggest gay running club

Nelson ran his first marathon in October. He talks to Outsports about the need for LGBTQ visibility in the sport, and the support of Front Runners New York.

Scottie Nelson achieved his goal of finishing the U.S. Olympic marathon trial, held in the Orlando heat on Saturday.
Vanessa Vila

Scottie Nelson had planned for hot conditions at Saturday’s U.S. Olympic marathon trial in Orlando — far from ideal for a race of this importance.

Even then the temperature, climbing into the 70s, nearly took his breath away.

“Those last miles were in the sun pretty much non-stop. We were just melting!” he told Outsports from his hotel room post-race.

Of the 200 starters in the men’s race, 50 failed to finish, according to Runner’s World. Nelson made it to the line in a time of 2:23:05, placing him 93rd and completing a special day not just for himself but also for his club, Front Runners New York.

The 28-year-old is the first Front Runner to ever compete in the trials — a hugely proud moment for the world’s largest LGBTQ running club.

What makes Nelson’s efforts even more remarkable is that he ran a marathon for the first time less than four months ago, in Chicago.

“It’s been such a whirlwind,” he explained. “My first half-marathon was only in 2022, so in that time, I’ve gone into a totally different style of racing from what I was used to.

“The support I’ve had from FRNY has been immeasurable. I appreciate them guiding me and making me sign up for races! It’s been a blessing.”

After Chicago, Nelson placed strongly in the New York Marathon four weeks later and decided to enter the California International Marathon in early December as well.

He set a personal record time of 2:17:21 (chip time) in Sacramento, clocking what’s believed to be a new club record for FRNY and an Olympic-trial qualifier time to boot.

He said his Orlando expectations were always “flexible” due to the heat, but he did achieve a half marathon PR during his run and feels his “Plan B tactics” paid off.

“At a certain point, you recognize when the heat is getting into that danger zone and you have to make adjustments,” he added.

“It was a softer goal. Perhaps but I accomplished it, finishing as strong as I could. A learning lesson, for sure.”

Conner Mantz won the trial in 2:09:05, followed a second later by training partner and friend Clayton Young. Both will go to the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.

Among those to miss out was Galen Rupp, the winner of the last two trials and a two-time Olympic medalist. He placed 16th.

Another notable finisher for Outsports readers was Matt Llano (69th). The 35-year-old came out publicly as gay back in 2014, one of the first pro runners to do so.

Nelson says they are not the only LGBTQ athletes to have taken part. He hopes others have felt as included as he has done since moving into competitive marathon running.

“Just being at these games with other queer athletes — knowing that there are some others here — it’s so inspiring and makes you feel so much like you belong,” he said.

Nelson’s “cheer squad” were out in force in Orlando on Saturday morning.

His own sports story begins at middle school in West Islip, N.Y., on Long Island, where he started running in seventh grade alongside his twin brother, Craig.

That continued into high school where the environment was so supportive that one day, Scottie felt comfortable enough to open up to his track coach.

“He was one of the first people I came out to. He was truly an inspiration for me, and having his acceptance was pivotal to me feeling welcome in the sport and feeling like I could be myself.”

Craig was also “immensely supportive,” and not before too long, both the Nelson boys were out and proud.

“It was a true moment of excitement that we could share this space as we are so similar in so many ways,” explained Scottie.

“It’s a critical part of our identity. I don’t have a choice, of course, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

They both studied at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and now Craig is a Front Runner too. He was there in Orlando to cheer on Scottie.

Remarkably, the two brothers have twin sisters as well.

“It’s crazy on paper, I know! Just wild. You could say I was born with my fun facts. I’m lucky like that.”

The Nelson brothers were running together once again at the New York Marathon in November.

Scottie is lucky in love too. While interning in New York City seven years ago, a mutual friend introduced him to Zachary Denny, who was at another financial firm. They were an item “essentially from day one” and are now engaged to marry.

“Zach went to University of Iowa, and I went to Amherst, so that first year was distance!

“But we moved in together as soon as we moved back to New York. Our first jobs were at the same places we interned and we’ve been attached at the hip ever since.

“He’s amazing by showing up to all these races, all while he’s navigating business school at Harvard, which he’ll wrap up in May. So our second stint of distance is now nearing a close, which is great.

“I’m trying to get him into running more! In fact, we all are at Front Runners. But for now, just having that support from him is such a privilege.”

Zach was there to celebrate with fiance Scottie after the California International Marathon.

In recent years, a host of businesses and brands across the track and field community have embraced themes of Pride and authenticity.

Runners such as Chris Mosier, Cal Calamia, Jake Caswell, Nikki Hiltz and Zackary Harris have blazed trails on gender and broken down barriers for LGBTQ people more widely.

However, the representation of out gay and bi men towards the elite level in the sport has been sparse, considering the high number of inspirational college runners who have shared their stories on Outsports over the years.

At the last Olympics, there was a combined total of 2,176 track and field athletes. Only three of the men were publicly out, compared to 10 in women’s events.

There’s clearly room for more representation in track and field, and although Nelson is not at that world-class level, he wants to play his part in strengthening the visibility.

“The beauty of this sport is that it’s accessible to anybody who wants to strap on a pair of shoes,” he said.

“Every sport is evolving, running included, and the more voices we have in the room to say, hey, you could be your full authentic self in whatever race it is — elite, sub elite, local, or just getting started — I can’t emphasize enough how critical I think that is.

“There are folks who I look up to and aspire to emulate and they are out queer athletes.

“I would love to one day be one of those voices too, even if it’s a quieter one which I think is more my style.”

So what’s next for Nelson after writing his name into Front Runners folklore?

“I want to help continue to build this club in all aspects — running, community, social and identity as well.

“And I’d love to continue to perform. I struggled with a pretty severe injury throughout much of college, but I’ve found a mix of cross-training, running and swimming that has allowed me to push forward.

“I’m excited. I think the marathons might take a little break for now, but that’s OK. It’ll be a full summer of New York-based races and I’d love to be back on the start line for the next US Olympic trials.

“Hopefully it’s not quite as warm next time!”