CeCé Telfer digs deep into her past and how it shaped her in her autobiography "Make It Count." | Peter Yang

Underneath any superhero, there lies an origin story. Trans athlete and national champion CeCé Telfer is no different.

The circumstances by which they gain and/or learned their power along with the lessons and responsibility involved in having it. Such wisdom is often gained through a mix of pain and pressure.

Real life heroes often run that same gauntlet, albeit without the comic-book powers. The struggle forges the hero within.

“Make It Count”, the life story of Telfer, NCAA track champion and 2019 Outsports Female Athlete of the Year, is a memoir that tells such a compelling tale.

It begins with the heroic deed she’s best known for, her wire-to-wire championship run in the 400 meter hurdles at the 2019 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The road to that moment is the heart of the story. The realness of growing up knowing her truth, yet denied the chance to express it.

CeCé Telfer share her story in an upcoming autobiography, “Make It Count”, slated for release in June 2024

“What led me to do this was all the pain I endured,” Telfer told Outsports. “I always saw who I was and that was my mom or my sister or any female figure in my life and that is who I would end up being. That was me.”

Born in Jamaica, Telfer grew up in the country’s national love for track. She was seen as a budding talent, even while hiding her gender identity amid a disapproving society and under the eye of an unsupportive parent.

“Someone told me as a child to never stop smiling and be positive and it will take you around the world. And that resonated with me my entire childhood and in my life,” she continued. “I was always bullied. I was always scrutinized. ‘Just keep being you’ was what the person was really saying and stay true to your heart and who you are fiercely. That was my shield when I was going to school in Jamaica in what was a hetero-strict society.”

That shield carried her through turbulent child and teen years that included a move from Jamaica to Canada, and coming of age to her personal and athletic awakenings.

There are incidents she recalls that will have readers in cheers and tears in equal measure, up to a moment as a junior at Franklin Pierce University. That includes the day after her junior year when Telfer, ready to truly be and compete out and proud, ran into a head coach in Zach Emerson, who essentially said of her transition and coming out, “it’s about time.”

“I was really stunned,” she said about the revelation. “I started crying. I felt like my coach really had my back. My university really had my back. It was exactly the love I had been looking for from my mother and the words I wanted her to say the coach said those to me. From then on I felt I had to give everything to that team.”

Telfer hasn’t stopped competing or speaking out, but says the bans on trans women in her sport leave her frustrated (Photo courtesy of CeCé Telfer)

Cecé Telfer here and now

Since 2019, Telfer has been on a different quest. Her next dream is to make the Summer Olympic Games.

In her book she gives detail on why she was denied a chance to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2021. It was a great deal of uncertainty and frustration that was reported as her not meeting the eligibility requirements, but Telfer maintains such was never the case. She says USA Track and Field and World Athletics had the documentation they asked for, and then they said they needed more information.

That experience is what keeps her fighting to compete from her base in West Hollywood. At the same time, she looks on from a distance.

“World Athletics and Team USA are family and we have fights and disagreements and I choose to focus on the positive because if I focus on the negative my voice won’t be heard,” she said. “I have to hope that these parent organizations realize that to outlaw and not embracing space will hurt a lot of people.

“I’m still showing up to represent and compete. I’m always a track athlete. Everybody around me who is cis and conforming is preparing for the Olympics, as is their right. I’m the only person not having that right to prepare for a fair chance to make the team. It’s hard to see that right now, and it’s hard to be public. But the publishing of my book is helping to keep the mindset and goal what is always was.”

Her other goal is to continue to be a voice for inclusion, especially for those who are coming behind her. She sees the dismissal of NCAA swim champion Lia Thomas’ case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport to gain access for trans women to international swimming wasn’t a “no” but rather a “not yet.” She feels the door is still open.

Telfer’s victory in 2019 (left) spurred on the effort of athlete to follow like Division III standout Sadie Schreiner (right) (Left Photo: Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images Right Photo: RIT Athletic Communications)

Telfer was also pleased at the success of Rochester Institute of Technology (N.Y.) track athlete Sadie Schreiner, whom Telfer met in person in the indoor season, at NCAA Division III nationals last month. Schreiner’s third place at 200 meters was the best effort by a trans student-athlete in a collegiate track and field’s title meet since Telfer’s run to history.

“It was emotional, beautiful to watch and I definitely cheered her on,” Telfer said. “It showed that we are moving in the right direction and I feel proud that I was part of that.”

She also expressed dismay about the recent examples of the rude treatment of transgender girl high school runners in Oregon and Washington who won state titles and received boos and threats for winning. Those stories brought back memories she wrote about when she went to NCAA nationals in 2019. She received threats for being there.

“At the indoor national championships, they had to stop my race because someone said something and I was next to the stands with no boundaries, nothing. They had to stop the race and stand the girls up and had to address that person. My life was threatened five seconds ago and you want me to finish this race?”

(Photo courtesy of CeCé Telfer)

“It’s sickening and it gives me anxiety for them,” Telfer said of the high schoolers dealing with the potential harm. “Booing and the crowd reacting how they did is not safe for any child mentally and physically. We’re adults. We need to do better.”

Like any author, Telfer is preparing for a book tour and continuing to compete where she can while also speaking out for inclusion. She hopes that her story — told with emotion, grit and optimism — will help those who follow her path in sports achieve their goals.

“I really hope that young people take from my story and other active athletes coming up to stand in their resilience,” she said. “Living in their truth is pressure, but it is also applying pressure. Just keep being you and advocate for yourself fiercely. In every process, in every opportunity in life, we always have to make it count.”

You can purchase CeCé Telfer’s autobiography, “Make It Count,” on Amazon and other online retailers.