The Nationals Experience
Especially for my non-athlete friends, it can be a little confusing when I travel off-campus for large swaths of time to compete at a track meet, so I thought I would write a little summary of my latest track trip. One of the unexpected benefits to being a student-athlete is the traveling I've done with the team. I've been able to explore other college campuses in the mid-west, and travel a little bit farther out for bigger competitions. Amid the exams and general chaos of the week before midterms, I got to take a mini "vacation" from Oberlin's campus to travel with three other teammates and our coaches to North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, to compete with the best in country at the NCAA Division III Indoor Championship. The top 17 in each event qualify, and I had made it in the 400m dash. I was joined by Ana Richardson in the weight throw, and Monique Newton and Nae Mclain in the shotput.
On our first day in Naperville, we went to the track early for practice. North Central has a beautiful indoor facility, and the NCAA always outfits the hosting institution very nicely. The throwers did some warm-ups and I did some drills with my coach, and then we waited to pick up our bib numbers and other competition gear.
I've qualified twice for the outdoor championship in what I consider my main event, the 400m hurdles, but this was my first time at the indoor championship. A definite perk to the outdoor championship is that it takes place at the end of the spring season, after finals. The indoor meet, on the other hand, is at about as inconvenient of a time as possible, smack in the middle of midterms. Although all of us were very focused and present when competing, we could also be spotted doing homework on the track, in the lobby of the hotel, and on the 6 hour journey to and from Naperville.
The NCAA does a good job of making everyone feel special for qualifying for the meet. The evening before the competition, there is a big awards dinner to celebrate the accomplishment, as well as recognize various athletes and programs. It's fun to see fellow competitors, who I usually only see in athletic clothing and moving very quickly, dressed up in heels or in a suit. This year, the Oberlin team won three awards in the Great Lakes Region.
Day 1 of the meet started off with Ana Richardson in the weight throw. This was Ana's second time qualifying for Nationals, and she finished 10th last year. Tenth place is a very frustrating position to end in, as the top 9 make it to finals, and the top eight are named All-American. This year, she kept us on our toes by fouling her first two throws before qualifying for finals on her last preliminary throw. She improved that mark in the finals to finish up eighth, along with a new school record and PR.
I also competed on the first day in the prelims of the 400m dash. I ran a very respectable time of 57.67, but unfortunately did not qualify for the finals the next day. I'm trying very hard to not be disappointed with myself about this performance - this has been a really fantastic season and the competition in the 400m indoors is at a very high level. In many ways, I think it was a lot more useful for me to end my season in this anti-climatic way. I had been feeling fatigued after our conference championship last weekend, and a "loss" at nationals makes me hungry to keep training and improving for the outdoor championship. It also gave me renewed respect for the All-American award I won last season. It's very tough to make it to the podium, even at the DIII level, and this was a good reminder of that.
The final day of the competition, Nae and Mo took on shotput. Mo has qualified for every national championship in her time at Oberlin, and was the runner-up last year for indoor. Nae recently broke the North Coast Athletic Conference record in the shotput and won the event. They both kept us holding our breath throughout the competition, qualifying for finals on their final preliminary throws in 7th and 9th place. Nae moved into 8th to take all-American honors on her final throw, and all eyes were on Mo. In typical Monique Newton fashion, she threw a lifetime PR, new school record and meet-winning throw. If that doesn't impress you, her throw also ranked her as 6th on the all-time list for Division III shotput. It was amazing to see a teammate and friend achieve something she has worked for since her first day at Oberlin.
Oberlin College's first female national champion, Monique Newton, and her coach,
And finally - if eternal fame and glory doesn't entice you enough to qualify for the National meet, the food will. As much as I love a good Dascomb lunch or Stevie dinner, it was nice to take a break from campus food. Highlights include the Brazilian grill place where we got to make our own rice and noodle bowls that were then fried up and delivered to the table, and a sushi restaurant, which Mo got to pick out. In the words of our coach, "If you win a national championship, you get to decide where we eat lunch."