Sadie Schreiner starts competition at NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships Thursday | RIT Athletic Communications

Sadie Schreiner, a transgender sprinter from Rochester Institute of Technology, opens her run at the NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships in the 200 meter prelims Thursday night in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The sophomore photography major starts a push for victory and to place her name in NCAA history. Should Schreiner reach the final of the 200 meters or the 400 meters, she would join the short list of transgender student-athletes who earned NCAA All-American status.

If she snags a national championship this weekend, she would be the first publicly out transgender student-athlete to win a national title since Lia Thomas in Division I swimming in 2022. This meet also takes place five years to the week after Cecé Telfer’s breakthrough national championship in the 400-hurdles at Division II track and field nationals, the first individual national title earned by a transgender woman in a women’s event in NCAA history.

This meet also comes with an eye to an uncertain future for Schreiner in her sport. With eligibility rules for transgender women set to fall in line with the World Athletics ban on trans women next season, this might be her first and last chance at a collegiate title.

“After I didn’t get the title at indoor nationals, I knew that this next one would be contested as to whether it will be my last,” Schreiner said. “I put a lot on myself to perform as well as possible at this meet because, even though I have three more years of eligibility, I may only have one to actually compete in.”

She enters these championships top-8 nationally in both of her events. But her beginnings in the sport go back to being a middle school state champ, and later a high school track athlete, at Hillsborough High School in New Jersey.

How Sadie Schreiner got here

A four-year varsity performer, and on the podium at both her school’s conference and county championships in her senior year, Schreiner was known as a gritty competitor in her individual events and on relay legs.

Underneath her determination and grit, she was grappling with her identity. Love for the sport and loyalty to her high school team led her to put transition on hold.

“I knew I was trans throughout my high school life, but I knew that transitioning would have complication with the track team,” she recalled. “So I waited until the last month or two of my senior year in track to start medication. I started to socially transition as I was going into college so I could come in as who I am.”

Entering RIT in 2022, she took freshman year off from competition to not just learn herself, but learn how a changing body that was well into hormone replacement could compete on the track. The early learning curve was as steep mentally and emotionally as it was physically.

“I visualize running as shifting gears and, all of a sudden, I was incapable of shifting gears,” Schreiner pointed out. “I was unable to get faster. It was either sprint or jog and there was nothing in between.”

“A lot of it was fighting my own mentality that I used to be running this time and I should be running this time in the workout. And I would do that and then destroy my calves and wouldn’t be able to walk,” she recalled. “It became a lot of tapering and experimentation for a year as I learned what worked and what didn’t.”

Video courtesy of RPI Track and Field

Schreiner applies the lessons on the track

As she returned to full competition this season, the results showed a lot of lessons learned. During indoor season, she broke RIT records at 200, 300, and 400 meters, won the Liberty League title at 200 meters and put herself on the grid for NCAA Division III indoor nationals.

She won her prelim heat at indoor nationals with a time that looked be fast enough to reach the finals. The last heat of the prelims saw all four competitors sweep into the final. Schreiner was on the outside looking in, missing the cut by just .006 of a second.

She turned disappointment into domination in the outdoor season. At the Liberty League’s outdoor championships, she took home titles in both events while lowering her school records. In the 400 final she earned a revenge over rival Madeline O’Connell of crosstown University of Rochester. At the conference indoors, O’Connell got the win with Schreiner second.

Sadie Schreiner turns ‘cheat’ into art

Throughout this successful season, Sadie Schreiner has been cheered within her team and on her campus.

“The girls on my team have been amazing,” she said.

Away from campus is lots of noise from those who believe she has no right to be on this stage. The words “cheat” and “cheater” get thrown around, never mind that she is eligible by current NCAA rules. Schreiner is following the rules.

Schreiner is not shy about engaging in the discussion with her words and with her creative outlet. Graphic design is a passion of hers, and one of her pieces confront her detractors by turning their nasty comments into some pointed commentary.

This digital design piece, entitled “Cheat”, is built from the online barbs Schreiner has been confronted with — Sadie Schreiner | Sadie Schreiner

“The number of times I’ve been called ‘cheater’ is too many time to count,” she lamented. “It’s often due to lack of understanding. There’s a lot of people who don’t know what hormone therapy is like or that I even go through it.

“One of things things I harp on is telling my story and showing my documentation to prove the scientifically backed explanation as to why it is equitable for me to compete in the women’s division. One of the greatest things we can do is open up a conversation with trans athletes. So many decisions are being made by people who aren’t athletes and people who aren’t trans and no opening up discussion to the people they are criticizing.”

Schreiner noted that she is willing to have the conversation anywhere, even as far up as NCAA President Charlie Baker’s office.

For the weekend ahead, she seeks to stay relaxed, run fast and send a message to others to keep climbing.

“For the longest time I battled with should I transition or should I just compete as I am because it would be easier,” she said. “I tried for a long time to keep that bottled up, but you can only deny who you are for so long before it take too much of a mental toll. Being able to present as who I am, being able to be who I am, being able to compete as who I am is super important.”