BMX freestyler Chelsea Wolfe’s Olympic dream has seen ups, downs, the global pandemic, and last year’s Olympic postponement.
On Monday at the UCI Urban World Championships in Montpellier, France, her dream took another step forward.
Her solid opening run and a score of 80 in the BMX Freestyle Park finals was good enough for fifth place in the final standings, placing her third overall in the U.S. team rankings. If her current ranking holds, she should receive a place as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Team headed to next month’s Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. That would make Wolfe the first out transgender athlete to make a U.S. Olympic team.
She would be a part of Team USA with Hannah Roberts, who earned her third BMX Freestyle Park world championship Monday. Earlier this year, Roberts married her wife. Also on the team will most likely be 2018 world champ Perris Benegas, who finished 4th in Montpellier.
“It’s honestly slowly processing little by little how exciting that is,” Wolfe told Outsports. “I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my head around how exciting it is, and how incredible it is to make it so far with this wild dream of mine that I’ve dedicated my life to for the past five years.”
Wolfe’s goal heading into UCI Worlds was to laser-focus on execution first and try to push the envelope second.
“I was able to stay really focused and execute just about everything I had planned,” she said. “In run two I tried to step it up with a 540 air at the end but unfortunately crashed. I am really glad that I tried it though, and that my first run went well enough for me to be able to take that risk and still finish in the top five.”
Her effort in France was a sweet climax for the 28-year-old from Lake Park, Fla. She began her career in BMX racing 12 years ago, but found a new home in the gritty artistry of BMX freestyle when it was placed on the Olympic schedule for Tokyo.
She switched to freestyle competition in 2017, just as she was also starting to live her truth.
“I had to think of it as any trick I was scared to try,” Wolfe said in our one-on-one Instagram Live conversation last year. “It’s just that you have to start doing it and figure it out as you go. I’m a BMXer first and a trans woman somewhere after that, but they are both a critical part of my life. I couldn’t have one or the other. They had to co-exist.”
In that same interview, Wolfe talked about not having a role model as she made her way up the freestyle ranks while navigating her transition. She is that role model now, and her trailblazing triumph comes at a critical time. Transgender athletes, especially trans youth, are targets of a national wave of anti-trans legislation, including passage of a ban on transgender participation in scholastic and collegiate sport in her native Florida last week.
Wolfe is mindful of the potential history of the moment and the message her success sends.
“You are valuable and valid, and your rights are just as important as anyone else’s and we’re not going to let anyone take that from you,” Wolfe stated emphatically. “If you can live life openly as yourself in a world so hostile to your existence, then you already have the strength of a champion.”
Chelsea Wolfe made history in 2021, but she sat down with Outsports’ Karleigh Webb in October 2020 and revealed a lot of the backstory of her road to Tokyo. Click here to see the interview.