Mar 8, 2024; Boston, MA, USA; Nico Young of Northern Ariozna defeats Parker Wolfe of North Carolina to win the 5,000m during the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at The Track at New Balance. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports | Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cyd Zeigler called me as the NCAA 5000 Meter ended, and we both wanted to cry.  

What a special moment for those of us who knew of Nico Young as he won his first individual NCAA title in Boston at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.  May this put all the naysayers to rest who said he could never win the big one.  

Well, he just did, defeating a trio of African runners from the University of Arkansas who tried to control the early pace. Nico put on an impressive kick to pull away from the field with a blazing finish over the last 400 meters.

Perhaps the bigger story is that no out gay athlete has ever ever performed at this level in track and field in such a dominating fashion. 

I’ve been around track and field for 50 years and have never witnessed a performance by a gay athlete who achieved what Nico did Friday in Boston, and then he followed it up on Saturday with a National Championship in the 3k.

In 2022, when Nico came out, there were some nasty things said about him. Well, he just shut them up. 

He’s such a sweet team player at Northern Arizona, loved by everybody there, caring more about the team title than his personal accomplishments. After the race he said he was “super grateful” to the people who supported him and that today “bodes well for the end of the Year.”  

You can rest assured he means the Outdoor NCAA Championships, but more importantly the Olympic Trials and Paris.

Nico’s title should be all about Nico. Yet it will resonate for so many young gay athletes for whom he will be an inspiration and role model.  

As a new generation of young gay runners worry about being out, Nico proves to them that they can come out of the closet and accomplish great things.  

When I was outed for being gay as Athletic Director at Oberlin College more than 20 years ago, I was criticized as Nico has been. I embraced the mantle, hearing from closeted athletes and coaches across the country. I suspect Nico will hear from many he has inspired, including me.

Many years ago, Patricia Nell Warren wrote a trilogy of books starting with the Front Runner. That first book tells the story of a gay runner and his coach as they fight their way to the Olympics against all odds.  

Nico, you have inspired so many of us today (though I was a fan before your national title). I hope that you might be that Front Runner, with the happy ending you deserve.  

So do it again and the rest of 2024 and the years to come and continue to make us proud!     

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