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College runner: ‘I want people to know that I’m gay and I’m fast’

For Rachel Hirschkind, helping her team place at cross-country nationals was made sweeter by being out as a queer athlete.

Rachel Hirschkind
Rachel Hirschkind attends SUNY Geneseo and competes for both the cross-country and track and field teams.

The The athletic highlight of my running career was being part of the State University of New York-Geneseo cross-country team that placed third at nationals in November. To do it as an out queer athlete made it all the more special.

Accepting myself hasn’t always been easy. It wasn’t until the end of 10th grade that I made a full change to my identity and accepted the fact that I was a lesbian when I chopped off my hair.

I grew up in Monroe, a small town about an hour north of New York City. I knew I was queer when I was in seventh grade and originally came out as bisexual.

I tried to convince myself that I had the same attraction to both men and women, but realized I was most likely lying to myself. I was scared to accept the fact that I could be a lesbian and there was no ounce of straightness within me. I always thought that I liked men and women equally, but my attractions towards them just weren’t the same.

I was definitely very hesitant and scared to make this full commitment, knowing that it was almost certain that I was gay. I didn’t know how my friends or teammates would react or say about it.

I now want people to see that I’m queer and know that I’m proud to be who I am. I’ve had nothing but love, respect and support from my teammates in college. In high school, I was not the only queer athlete and it helped having fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community by my side.

When I entered college, I was initially nervous since it was a new environment, but I was fortunate to be a part of a caring and inclusive school with a great cross country and track team. I know this isn’t always true for every sports team and organization, which is why we need to acknowledge and talk more about the queer community and LGBTQ+ issues so people can be more educated and accepting. The importance of being true to oneself and accepting who you are needs to be addressed.

Rachel Hirschkind, third from right, with her State University of New York-Geneseo cross-country team that finished third in last year’s nationals.
Rachel Hirschkind, third from right, with her State University of New York-Geneseo cross-country team that finished third in last year’s nationals.

At Geneseo, I am able to fully express and be myself around my peers and teammates. I also love how I can not only represent my school, teammates, and coaches by wearing the Geneseo name proudly on my uniform, but I can also represent myself and my queerness.

With my hard work and dedication I’ve been given the privilege to be able to represent Geneseo at large competitions such as the Division III Niagara Region cross-country championships last fall, the Division III national track and field championships in spring 2021, and the Division III cross-country national championships in fall 2021.

For many of my teammates, going to nationals in Louisville in Kentucky was completely new and foreign to us. We came in third close behind Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Johns Hopkins, with two of our teammates being All-American and three girls, including myself, being only seconds away from an All-American status.

I want people to know who I am. I want people to know that I’m gay, I’m fast, and people like us exist. We need our voices to be heard.

There is so much that can be accomplished when one truly believes and trusts the process to be something amazing. Many years ago, I probably wouldn’t have seen myself in a position like this achieving great things both athletically and academically.

Rachel Hirschkind, 20, is a junior Chemistry major who attends SUNY Geneseo. She also competes for both the cross-country and track and field teams. She can be reached via email ( rah23@geneseo.edu), Instagram (@rach.Hirschkind) or Twitter (@RHirschkind)

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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