5 years ago Saturday CeCe Telfer of Franklin Pierce ran to an NCAA Championship. The first individual title by a trans woman in NCAA history (Photo by Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

It’s really been five years since a balmy May evening at the NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships Texas A&M University at Kingsville.

A Black transgender woman named CeCé Telfer, representing a small college in New Hampshire, loaded into the starting blocks that night. She faced 400 meters, ten sets of hurdles, a lifetime of fear, and a world of doubters.

“Boom! The gun goes off. I’m gone,” Telfer writes in her upcoming autobiography Make It Count. “Out of the blocks. Hard. I’m in warrior mode. Hyperfocused. The only thing on my mind is the finish line. My spikes fly over the track. I say a prayer. God, please help me through this race. Without shedding blood. God, please protect me from all the danger of this day and night. Please help me finish this race, Lord.”

In 57.53 seconds, Telfer locked in to give a championship performance under pressure. She was the first transgender student-athlete to win an individual national championship competing in the gender by which the athlete identifies.

The road for the 2019 Outsports Female Athlete of the Year since has mirrored the path transgender people have travelled in and out of sports. Her senior year at Franklin Pierce University saw her success put under scrutiny. The barbs against her competing and winning came from as high at the White House.

At the same time she was striding into history, two transgender high school girls in Connecticut were catching the same level of hell just for being who they are and being good at a sport they enjoy.

Less than a year after her championship win, the legislative nightmare transgender Americans are still going through began with the first trans student-athlete measure passed just a day before Transgender Day of Visibility and amid the early chaos of the COVID-19 crisis.

The next year saw Telfer denied a chance at a dream, first ruled eligible, then ruled ineligible to take part in the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field. Since then, Telfer has continued to push on and compete where she can while also continuing to speak out against the tide seeking to push trans people out of sports.

“This journey that I am on is more than beyond just myself and my journey,” she said in an interview with TransLash Media in March 2021. “My quote I live by is to be the change I want to see in the world and I am heavily committed to that.”

Telfer made those remarks a year before another breakthrough. University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas took home a national championship in the 500-yard freestyle at NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships. In that same meet she and Yale University swimmer Iszac Henig earned All-American honors, joining Telfer in a special list.

However, some say that list is large and “dominating”, and just the mere fact that it exists at all means “the end of women sports.”

Unfortunately, it seems sports governing bodies are believing the hysteria. We’ve seen bans initiated by the world governing bodies of track and field, swimming and cycling, mainly because of one trans woman winning one event.

Telfer’s NCAA win was fodder used to pressure Sebastian Coe into the ban he stamped last year. World Aquatics panicked one second after Lia Thomas touched the timing pad. I call the Union Cycliste International ban “The Austin Killips Rule”, because they caved to the hysteria immediately after Killips won a lower level pro stage race.

Collegiate athletics, at all levels, have seen 40 out trans student-athlete compete in its history, yet that fact didn’t stop the NAIA from pushing through a total ban on transgender women in sport in April.

That hysteria is driving a lawsuit against the NCAA by 16 former and current collegiate athletes, led by former college swimmer-turned anti-trans activist Riley Gaines. The suit calls for a total ban on transgender women and they want the NCAA to strip transgender women student-athletes of any placing and awards earned in competition.

This move is another petty personal attack by Gaines on Lia Thomas. I also see such a move as a slap in the face to CeCé Telfer and the heart, class and dignity that she has shown by her championship example.

The spirit and fight of Telfer that night in Texas was rekindled on hallowed ground at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon last weekend. The enmity against her also reared it head in the boos spat at a high school girl who happened to be trans and fast.

Hopefully Aayden Gallagher can hold a piece of wisdom from the NCAA champ close to her heart. In a 2019 interview with Telfer, she told me: “I don’t care if they boo. The more they boo, the faster I run.

In late 2019, I got to meet CeCé Telfer. Her example spurred me forward as well | Karleigh Webb

Five years ago, that spirit lifted me. Unsure of where I fit in, seeing Telfer push to excellence pushed me to stay in sports as well. It pushed me from never giving up on the diamond or the road, to fighting for a first down with another trans sister in pads and cleats seeking to stop me.

That spirit may carry a hopeful to the podium this weekend. The NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships are underway. Another transgender woman with speed and dreams, Rochester Institute of Technology sophomore Sadie Schreiner, will take aim at possibly two titles.

In February, Schreiner and Telfer met during an indoor meet in Boston. They recognized each other almost immediately then, and they got together for a joint Outsports interview earlier this week.

“It was awesome and amazing to see another girl like me just living her truth and in her power,” Telfer said. “It felt good to not be the only trans girl there.”

Schreiner said the meeting then was exciting, and the historic line of trans-athlete champions she could join this week she described as “surreal.”

Sadie Schreiner cites Telfer as a role model in her own climb to the front of the pack | RIT Athletic Communications

“Seeing you there really helped with my nerves and having someone there who was going same stuff as me made a huge difference for me and helped me clear my head,” Schreiner said to Telfer. “I look up to athletes like CeCé Telfer and Lia Thomas. To follow in their footstep is big for me.”

Telfer also left Schreiner with some advice on what’s to come, and what could be.

“Our stories and journeys are different so you’ll need every ounce of focus, energy and positivity going into any national race,” Telfer coached. “Do whatever you need to do stay in the healthy mindset.”

“Rely on the support that is there,” she continued. “Rely on your teammates and that love and that support, focus on you and run your race.”

Telfer definitely ran her race that late spring night in Texas, and ran to victory. Five years later, and even amid difficult times, others continue to follow confidently in her slipstream.