This entry originally ran on the sports page of the Seattle Times.
Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of people commenting that everyone in track and field is on drugs. With the recent doping charges in our sport, I want it to be known that are still a lot of hard working people out there – people who go through things like what I’m going through right now just to get back out on the track, and be able to race and do what they love.
I’m a clean athlete, and my life has completely changed from last year to this year. Last year, I was ranked fourth in the world and running all over the globe, having a pretty good season except for not making the Olympic team. This year, I ran in three meets and had to have surgery on my knee. I missed the entire European circuit and pretty much my entire season.
When I first hurt my knee back in March, before the outdoor season started, I thought it was something that would go away. Instead, it lingered. I continued trying to race and train hard but I couldn’t perform the way I wanted to. It’s very frustrating when you give your all to train at your peak performance, but your body is stopping you. I was not able to train my best going into the U.S. Track and Field Championships this spring, and I tried to push through.
My club coach, Shirley Wroten, used to always tell me I was a warrior because I would fight through anything and race through any conditions.This year, after fighting through this injury at USAs, I finally understood what she meant. I just keep going and going until my body can’t go any more. Most athletes do that, but it’s not always a good thing. After not making the finals, my season was done.
It turned out that I had bone-on-bone bruising in my left knee, and there were two big patches where there was no cartilage. Without the cartilage, there was nothing to absorb impact, and that’s my lead leg for hurdling. So that’s where the constant pain was coming from in my knee.
After consulting with a doctor, I went ahead and had surgery. Surgeons went in and cleaned it up, and then inserted some artificial cartilage. It’s a new technique, and my doctor said he’s been having pretty good results with it. The hope is it will make my knee like new.
It’s really very hard coming back from injuries. You have to take the time off. You have to know how to be patient, and slowly climb your way back to peak performance. It can be a long, grueling process. But that is exactly what it takes.
That’s what makes athletes who compete dirty so frustrating. You see them have injury after injury, maybe even a surgery, and come back a few short months later just flying. I’m not saying that those kinds of recoveries aren’t possible naturally, but they’re not normal. And when an athlete recovers and then tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs, it’s a real slap in the face of everyone else who’s clean. Because we’ve believed that coming back quickly was possible when it wasn’t. We’ve questioned why our recoveries took so much longer.
It takes away from everything that sports should be about. I’m spending a lot of money on my body just to be able to run again through these surgeries, going through rehabilitation and traveling from place to place. It’s because this is something that I love to do. I have a real passion and love for this sport, and a talent in it.
I wish there was a way that people could see that not everyone in this sport is doping. I wish they could be with us and see what we go through: How much time we put in at the track, in the weight room, at physical therapy, getting in ice baths and maintaining a healthy diet. For a lot of athletes, it’s a matter of having to train in different places and being away from your family.
There are certain demands put on us through sponsors and appearances. Some athletes even compete without contracts and have gone years without a contract, just doing it for the love of the sport and trying to climb their way back to the top. To me, the true athletes are those who say that no matter what, they’re going to do this, to accomplish a personal goal for themselves.
I want to encourage fans to keep supporting track and field, especially with the recent cloud that has been hanging over the sport. There’s a lot that goes into this as a career, and not everybody is a cheater. A lot of people are putting their blood, sweat and tears into this, and making sacrifices so that they can accomplish something great. We still do have a lot of genuine, hard-working athletes out there who are wonderful people to look up to and follow. There are the Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s of the world, who are no longer running, but are still out there, doing good.
We need your support to keep doing it. We aren’t all taking the easy way out. I hope my journey is a clear example of clean athletes going from peak success, to injuries, to climbing back to success with nothing more but pure, hard work.