Nicholas Turco Founds The Colorado Athletics Visibility Award

Nicholas Turco, twenty-three year old trail runner and recent Summa Cum Laude graduate from the University of Colorado Boulder, is following up his senior research project on the sports climate for LGBTQ+ student-athletes in the NCAA with a scholarship program that will increase LGBTQ+ inclusion in college sports.

The scholarship, known as The Colorado Athletics Visibility Award, was just announced yesterday December 1, 2021. This will be the first fully endowed scholarship, “to provide full-tuition scholarships to NCAA LGBTQ+ athletes and athlete allies who will advance visibility, innovation, and inclusive excellence for LGBTQ+ people in sports and through the medium of sports at CU, nationally and globally.”

For the following Q/A interview, I spoke with Turco about his inspiration behind founding this award, the design of the scholarship and what this may mean for increasing LGBTQ+ inclusion in not just the NCAA but also the trail running world.

[TAYTE POLLMANN] As the founder of The Colorado Athletics Visibility Award, how would you describe the award and its main purpose?
[NICHOLAS TURCO] The Colorado Athletics Visibility Award is a scholarship at the forefront of advancing LGBTQ+ rights and representation in sports. It is the first ever collegiate athletics scholarship of its kind. The purpose is to create a community of collegiate scholar athletes who have a desire to use their platform, power and visibility in their role as athletes to advance LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports and through the medium of sports.

Currently, it’s a $20,000 scholarship that will be given to two student athletes each year. One student athlete will be the main recipient, the “LGBTQ+ Scholar,” and the other will be selected as the “Ally Scholar.” People propose a project to the University of Colorado Boulder that they will work on during their four/five years as an athlete. The project must use their platform in sports to create change for LGBTQ+ lives. It can be creating inclusion in the world of sports or using sports to create inclusion for others.

Nicholas Turco

Nicholas Turco at the 2020 Moab Trail Marathon.

[TAYTE] Who are the recipients of the scholarship this year?
[NICHOLAS] Our LGBTQ Scholar is Lex Keuhl. Her project is going to be visiting schools across the Boulder valley with her teammates and giving lectures on what it means to be LGBTQ+, what it means to be inclusive and answer anonymous questions from students in middle and high school so they can gain comfort.

She grew up gay in Florida and said she just didn’t have anyone to talk to those things about when she was growing up. She’s trying to change that narrative through her project. This year’s Ally Scholar is Evan Battey, the star of the men’s basketball team. His project is to help me build the endowment for the scholarship.

[TAYTE] What has the process been like working with larger governing bodies such as the NCAA to create this award at the University of Colorado Boulder?
[Nicholas] We’re proposing a legislation change for the NCAA. We’re asking them to change their financial aid bylaw to award this scholarship to athletes who are walk-ons, so anyone can be eligible, not just students who are already eligible for full-varsity scholarships.

[TAYTE] Do you envision this award extending to other schools in the NCAA?
[NICHOLAS] I see the University of Colorado as national leaders in creating this legislation change and serving as a model for other schools to do the same. I don’t think this award belongs only to Colorado, it belongs all over the nation. We will be working hard in our athletics department to be the first one to do it right. Our first goal is to launch the award here in Colorado. We plan to reach out to other PAC12 schools to sign on to say that they support it.

[TAYTE] What inspired you to expand upon your senior research study on the sports climate in the NCAA for LGBTQ+ athletes to create this award?
[NICHOLAS] My personal journey as a gay athlete has been a large part of my inspiration for this award. We have to do more than just tolerate people. We have to go above and beyond to say that you really belong here. I want the goal of this scholarship to be that “you really belong here.” You really belong in the world and in sports, however you are. Gay, transgender and anybody who feels excluded in society or sports must feel they really belong.

I also wanted to motivate the power of ally-ship because of my experiences with great LGTBQ+ allies I’ve known in my life. When I started running with my pro-club team in Colorado under coach Kathy Butler, my experience as an athlete changed completely because of people who were willing to show me how much they loved who I was in every single way. It’s the reason I’ve accomplished many of the things I’ve accomplished today and I want to create that experience for others.


Nicholas Turco racing in Moab, Utah.

[TAYTE] Tell us more about the design of this scholarship? How does a person earn the award?
[NICHOLAS] The design of the scholarship was to make sure this was not just another example of affirmative action. People’s ideas and their bravery is what’s getting them this scholarship, not their status as an ally or LGBTQ+ person. I want to celebrate both allies and LGBTQ+ people, but I want it to be clear that the point of this scholarship is “how are you being innovative and brave with your projects and platform and personal vulnerability?” Vulnerable people and people who are really willing to break the rules are the ones who will create change in the world.

[TAYTE] What has been your experience with the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in trail running compared to the NCAA?
[NICHOLAS] In the trail running community, visibility is just as important as it is in NCAA sports. What I hope to do as an athlete is to be outspoken in who I am and show that everyone belongs. I want to remind people that anyone belongs everywhere. There is a lot of ability to partner with trail running brands to provide similar opportunities as this award to trail runners outside of the structure of the NCAA.

There may even be more opportunity for change, as there are less rules working with these brands than within the rules of the NCAA. I am excited to see how brands will be stepping it up with their inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. Nike started with their “Be True” movement but there’s a lot of space and room for that to grow in mountain sports.

[TAYTE] What can elite trail runners do to increase inclusion in trail running?
[NICHOLAS] Bringing attention to the elite caliber of world class trail athletes and having those athletes speak out on inclusion would be an important thing. They are the ones with platforms that people will listen to. When I look up to someone like Kilian Jornet and see him advocate for climate awareness and reducing our environmental impact to enjoy the stunning mountains we get to run and play in, that’s inspiring to me. Voices like his that could advocate for all types of people belonging in sports, which is just as important.

[Editor’s Note: Applications for the 2022 Colorado Athletics Visibility Awards will open on February 15, 2022.]

Colorado Athletics Visibility Awards winners Evan Battey and Alexia Kuehl.

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