"The track was this unifying force that connected me with the world."

By Faith Brar
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Running has always been a passion for Kaylin Whitney. The 20-year-old athlete has been breaking world records since she was just 14 years old in 100- and 200-meter youth events. At 17, she gave up her high school (and NCAA) eligibility to turn pro, winning two gold medals at the Pan Am Games, and she's currently hustling toward her dream of competing at the Olympics.

Sure, she's really good at her sport. But Whitney also credits running with giving her the confidence to be herself-even when that meant standing out from the crowd.

Photo: Red Bull

"Growing up as a kid, I was always really active, but track was the first sport I ever played competitively. It's been close to my heart ever since because no matter what was happening in my life, or in my mind, running was always there," Whitney tells Shape. (Related: How Running Helped Me Conquer My Eating Disorders)

Whitney knew since she was a young girl that her sexual identity was different than her friends in her small Florida town of Claremont, she says. She knew early on that she didn't want to "waste her energy being something she wasn't," so she came out to her family as a teen, she says. "While it was definitely emotional and nerve-racking, I knew my family and friends were going to love me no matter what, so I have nothing but positive things to say about my decision to come out so young," she says. (Related: How Your Favorite Brands Are Celebrating Pride This Year)

Photo: Red Bull

That isn't to say that things were always smooth sailing for Whitney. There were times she struggled and felt alone-but that's where running came in. "It was this unifying force that connected me with the world," she says. "It became my outlet. It was the one place I knew I could be 100 percent Kaylin and no one was going to say anything about it. Every time I got on the track, I knew I was giving it my all, just like everyone else-and I could do that time and time again." (Related: How to Boost Your Confidence In 5 Easy Steps)

Photo: Red Bull

The acceptance and support she's received through the track and field community have helped Whitney realize that no amount of discrimination can affect her self-esteem or keep her down. "In my experience, being LGBTQ in sport is kind of like anything else," she says. "And I can only see it getting even better in the future." (Related: Some Breweries Are Celebrating Pride Month With Glitter Beer)

To share her experience with the world, Whitney decided to celebrate Pride Month in a very special way. The Nike- and Red Bull-sponsored athlete decided to run through the Rainbow Tunnel in Birmingham, Alabama-something that meant a lot to her not only has someone who identifies with the LGBTQ community but also as someone who is mixed race, she says. "I just thought it was such an iconic place to be this month," she says. "It was my way to pay homage to the people who fought for, and continue to fight for, equality."

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Despite being only 20, Whitney is definitely someone to admire when it comes to owning her identity and being unapologetically herself. To those who might struggle to do the same, she says: "You just have to be yourself. At the end of the day, it's your life and you have to do whatever it is that makes you happy. If you rely on other people's opinions or thoughts of you, you will never be satisfied."

She adds: "When you start living your life for you and doing things that make you happy, that's when you really start living." We couldn't agree more.

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