Nikki Hiltz embraces LGBTQ+ advocacy with new sponsorship

Nikki Hiltz wins the women's 1,500m in 4:07.71 during the USATF Distance Classic at Occidental College.
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When middle distance runner Nikki Hiltz steps to the start line on Thursday evening at U.S. Track and Field Championships, they’ll do so with a weight off their shoulders.

“It’s so refreshing to be with a company that says, ‘Oh, we like what you do on the track, obviously, but we really like what you do off the track as well,’” Hiltz told On Her Turf ahead of the championships’ kickoff in Eugene, Ore., where they’ll compete with a sponsor for the first time in six months after announcing their new role as brand ambassador for Lululemon on Thursday.

“They really take a holistic approach and realize that athletes are humans, and [their philosophy is], ‘If you represent that our brand well, we’re going to work with you. That’s all that matters,’” Hiltz added. “I think that, especially going into USAs with this new partnership, I feel like there’s no pressure. A weight is off, and I feel because of that, I’m going to be able to run my best.”

Since January, the 27-year-old Hiltz, who came out last year as nonbinary, has been running without a major sponsor, having parted ways with Adidas when their contract ended in December. While they had the option to re-sign with the company, Hiltz ultimately chose to explore opportunities that went beyond the traditional, performance-oriented contracts that are the norm in track and field.

“That was really stressful,” they said of competing under the traditional contract structure. “Whenever you stepped on the line, you kind of had this extra pressure, and that was definitely something that weighed on me.

“As the athlete, we’re our biggest critics, so when you have a brand also putting that pressure on top of you, it sometimes can be not a great mix. And athletes more and more are becoming more vocal about their mental health and where their headspace needs to be, and I think it’s a beautiful thing that people are talking about it.”

They also took inspiration from previous track athletes who dumped the status quo.

“I was really empowered by (athletes) like Colleen Quigley and Mary Cain and Allyson Felix — all these women that were like, ‘I’m going to do things differently because I don’t like the mold or don’t like the way the system is, and I’m going step out of the box and try to get into partnership with a brand that is doing things differently,’” Hiltz explains. “I feel like my own journey was really inspired and empowered by those women who came before. I was like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s cool; that’s possible. I’m going to try to do that, too.”

Hiltz spent the last six months competing in a custom-made singlet that sports the message, “Protect Trans Kids,” and in March, they created their own T-shirts with the words “Track Club” printed across in the front in rainbow colors, with the proceeds helping support their season while competing unsponsored.

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However, Hiltz has been displaying their philanthropic-meets-entrepreneurial spirit for several years already, founding a virtual Pride 5K during the pandemic and raising more than $75,000 at the 2020 and 2021 events to support the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis and suicide intervention to LGBTQ+ youth. This year’s Pride 5K, set for Oct. 2, will have an in-person component for the first time, with $2,000 of the proceeds going to the non-profit Sunnyside Neighborhood, located in their new hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Amid an ongoing barrage of legislation targeting transgender people, Hiltz remains vocal about the importance of inclusion.

“I hate that (the argument against) trans women competing in sports has been reworded to, ‘We need to protect women’s sports, and we need to exclude this group of people in order to do that,’” said Hiltz. “It’s really sad to me because it’s really the opposite of what Title IX stands for, right? It’s like we’re just doing the same thing (excluding people), but now to a different group. …It’s not breaking the cycle.

“I go back to like, well, trans women are women, and we need to protect them as well. So many of those people don’t give a sh– about women’s sports until there’s a trans woman. If we really want to protect women’s sports, let’s start with equal pay — there’s so many other issues going on, and trans women are not the biggest threat to women’s sports by any means.”

As for their immediate goals, Hiltz is aiming for the podium this week at Hayward Field in Eugene, which would qualify them for their second world championship team. Hayward is also hosting next month’s World Championships, marking the first time that the event will be staged in North America.

“My goal is to make it to the final, and then in the final, the top three,” said Hiltz, who won gold at in the 1500m at the 2019 Pan American Games and was a finalist in the 1500m at worlds that same year. “I feel really confident my training, I feel really good, like mentally healthy and happy, and I think if I just have a top-three finish it’s definitely possible.”

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report. 

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Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.