Thursday, June 14, 2018

COURAGE EARNS THE BRONZE

Following is an article that I wrote today about NCAA track and field bronze medal winner in the steeplechase, Paige Stoner.

EUGENE, Ore. — Prior to the finals of the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at Saturday’s NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships held at historic Hayward Field, Pottsville Area graduate Paige Stoner had to make a bold decision.

Her choices were to sit back and let the favorite, Boise State’s Allie Ostrander, dictate the pace, or go for broke and challenge the reigning steeplechase champion.

Like she has all season, Stoner chose the latter and went for the win.

The 3,000-meter steeplechase, which derives its name from the horse racing steeplechase, is a brutal event. The distance is a little less than two miles, within which runners must hurdle a total of 28 immovable, 30-inch high barriers as well as a 12-foot wide water jump on all seven laps. After the legs fatigue, hurdling the barriers becomes increasingly difficult, causing many a runner to trip and fall to the track.

The Syracuse University junior placed third in the event in a personal-best time of 9 minutes, 46 seconds. It was the perfect cap to what has been a superb season for Stoner in nearly every race she has run.

In the fall, Stoner proved herself to be one of the top harriers in the country in her final year of eligibility in cross country.

At the Atlantic Coast Conference Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, she battled
Dorcas Wasike, a Kenyan native running for the University of Louisville. Stoner found another gear in the last 100 meters of the race and prevailed in a time of 19:52 on the 6-kilometer course, capturing the ACC championship.

In miserable conditions, she placed second at regionals in Buffalo, New York, then she went on to run the exact same time of 19:52 to earn a 17th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Stoner’s success continued throughout her indoor season, when she raced at distances of 3K and 5K. In her own words, Stoner prefers an “honest” race over a tactical one. In a tactical race, competitors tend to bunch together at a relaxed pace, then as the race winds down, the runner with the fastest sprint usually prevails.

At Indoor Nationals held at Texas A&M, the race was a slower, tactical race, but Stoner placed 8th in a time of 16:02 for 5 kilometers, earning All-America honors.

During her outdoor season, Stoner competed in a grueling 10,000-meter race, which is 25 laps around the track. She ran a personal-best time of 33:55 and finished in 6th place.
In addition to being an accomplished runner, Stoner participated in soccer, gymnastics and swimming during her youth. She enjoys running the steeplechase because it appeals to her all-around athletic abilities.

She won her first steeplechase race of the season at the University of Virginia in late April, clocking a time of 9:57. Once again, she earned an ACC championship, winning the event and dropping her time to 9:50. A time of 9:48 at regionals earned her a spot at nationals.

Thursday evening, she ran easily in her qualifying heat, landing her in the steeplechase finals.
After the first lap of the finals race, Stoner’s face displayed grit and determination, as she remained right on the heels of Ostrander. Glancing side to side, and looking up at the large screen, she was surprised that the rest of the field was not brave enough to go for the win, as she and Ostrander were running far ahead of the pack.

With about 600 meters to go, however, the scorching pace took its toll. She could feel the strength leave her legs, and with 300 meters remaining she surrendered second place. In the end, Ostrander defended her title with an outstanding time of 9:29. Stoner finished third, 17 seconds back.

True to her hardscrabble Pennsylvania roots, Stoner ran a Rocky Balboa-style race. She challenged the champion, she made her work for the victory and she left nothing on the track. Stoner is the third best collegiate steeplechase runner in the nation.

Over the summer, Stoner will work as a counselor at a Christian cross country camp. Faith is a major part of her running. She will then travel to Switzerland with a group of runners from Athletes in Action to compete against elite European runners.

Stoner has a year of track eligibility remaining. Although she enjoys running the steeplechase, she said she needs to work harder on her hurdling technique if she is to improve. She has the speed and strength to run the steeplechase, the 5,000 meters or the 10,000 meters.

Whatever long distance race Stoner elects to run, she will compete with a deep faith, gritty determination and a foundation of hard work.

Look for her again at nationals next year and remember that the 2020 Olympic Games are only two years away.