The Choice to Run Clean

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.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee: My Friendship With an Idol

Like a lot of female athletes, I grew up watching Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She was and remains an icon to me.

Now I am also lucky enough to call her a friend and mentor.

When I was younger, I read Jackie’s book, and I remember her coming to Seattle for a clinic about asthma, a condition she has prospered through. I remember all of us being at the Garfield Community Center, and running around following Jackie’s every move, listening to what she was saying. That was a big deal. THE Jackie Joyner-Kersee was in our town.


After seeing her that initial time when I was a kid, I saw her as my career went on — at appearances and things like that — but never really got the chance to talk with her. It wasn’t until after I started training with Bobby that I truly met her. My first year training with Bobby, I hurt my knee and he sent me back to St. Louis to see the doctor, and stay at their house.

All of a sudden, I was under the care of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

She picked me up at the airport, took me to their house, took me to my doctors appointment, and that’s how my relationship started with her. She treated me like family from day one. In the beginning, I was still star struck, like, “Oh my god, this is Jackie Joyner-Kersee.” It wasn’t until the last couple years that we’ve gotten really close.

She’s a great mentor who gives great advice, someone I consider a friend and like family to me. I was able to build that type of relationship with her because of the type of heart she has. I definitely feel that it’s her who spearheaded the relationship. She takes the time to reach out and have those types of connections with people.

So when I hurt my knee again this year, I went back to St. Louis for the surgery and stayed with Jackie. She looked after me, checked on me and took care of me.

With this latest setback and throughout the different injuries I have dealt with in my career, there have definitely been times that I’ve wanted to quit. But she’s constantly telling me that she’s thinking about me, encouraging me not to give up, and letting me know that I still have what it takes to succeed in this sport. It’s the little things she’s always telling me that mean the most.

I still look at her as THE Jackie Joyner-Kersee, but she’s definitely more like family. There’s nothing I can’t tell her or talk to her about. She’s just pleasant. She works hard and still years after running, she’s still working hard in the community, not for recognition, but because that’s what she feels her duty is.

LOVE AND FORGIVENESS

Since Jackie was letting me stay here, and I feel like I can never truly repay the things that she and Bobby have done for me, I asked if — while I was here — there were any projects she was working on that I could help out with in any way.

She happened to be hosting a program called Love and 4giveness at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis days before my surgery, so I was able to help out with that. There were about 50 middle school-age girls in attendance, and we spent the whole day there. We had breakfast and lunch, did a bunch of activities and contests to encourage them.

Love and 4giveness is something Jackie is really passionate about. It’s based in an area of East St. Louis, where Jackie is from. The goal is to teach kids how to love. That starts by teaching them how to love themselves first, and then goes into how to love people around them, and how to forgive others who have hurt them in their home life or just their peers at school.

She breaks down the whole program into segments. As part of one exercise, she had everybody close their eyes and picture themselves and how they view themselves. The message behind that was to teach them how to love the skin that they’re in, and how to take that same emotion and carry it over into their interactions at school, at work, through sports or anything else.

It emphasizes that whatever your goals are, keep love first and forgive people. You never know if you’re going to be on the other end of that, and need somebody to forgive you. It can go a long way to stopping violence and things like that if we have people forgiving, and just taking that time out to really encourage one another.

It also teaches love and forgiveness through sports. Jackie uses her journey and her love for track as an example. You can have that same love you have for someone for something you do, like track. Sports can be unforgiving because at any moment, things can just change for you. There are so many examples — myself included. But if you have that love, you can get through it.

It was a message that resonated with me and a lot of the other adults there too, including parents who stuck around. A lot of them told Jackie afterward that they needed that message as well, to provide encouragement and reassurance in themselves about their lives.

As another part of the program, Jackie asked me if I would speak during a segment called, “Refuse to Quit.” Being in the situation I’m in and with my whole story in track and field — dealing with injuries but still having success — I was actually the perfect person for Refuse to Quit.

She was really hands-on and she went out and handpicked this stuff for the girls to give them goody bags at the end of the day. Most people probably send someone to does those things, who they tell to grab this and pick up that. But she and her assistant went out and did it all themselves. To be right there witnessing the effort she puts into it was pretty cool.

The whole program was a great experience. But most of all, I enjoyed being in Jackie’s presence, watching her do the things she does in the community, and learning from her. Just watching her preparation for the event was motivating.

A Season’s Best in Rome

With just two weeks until the USA Outdoor Championships, Ginnie Crawford picked a great time for her best run of the year.

Ginnie ran the 100-meter hurdles in a season’s best 12.90 seconds to finish third on Thursday at the Samsung Diamond League Golden Gala in Rome, Italy.

It was Ginnie’s first sub-13-second run of the 2013 outdoor season and she as she tweeted afterward, a confidence builder.

TRAINING PARTNERS
Prior to racing on Thursday in Rome, Ginnie got so practice time in during the Italian trip with training partners Allyson Felix, Dawn Harper and Jeneba Tarmoh. After they finished their session, the quartet mugged it up for the camera.

CATCHING UP

Meets like Thursday’s in Rome are about more than competition for Ginnie and her fellow athletes. They also enjoy a special camaraderie of elite athletes and the Golden Gala give GC a chant to meet up with good friend Natasha Hastings, a 400-meter specialist.

Like Ginnie, Hastings finished third in Rome and afterward the two posed for a photo that Hastings later posted on Instagram.

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Nate the Great Flourishes in the NBA Playoffs

Growing up in Seattle, I was surrounded by great athletes. But there are a few that have stuck out above the rest this spring.

I’ve known both Nate Robinson of the Bulls and Jamal Crawford of the Clippers a long time and I’ve enjoyed watching both of them in the NBA playoffs. I’ve watched pretty much all of Nate’s games and all of Jamal’s games. I’m a real fan of the sport and used to play myself for years. I’m a fan of athleticism and I just think it’s incredible watching people that you’ve seen grow up pursue their dreams.

Nate and I started running track together when we were like eight years old. From then on, every summer we ran track together all the way up until we went to high school and we went to the same high school as well.

After competing together for years, you naturally become friends, but he’s really like family to me. I’m really close with his mom and his entire family is an extended family to me. Seattle is big city, but a small community so everybody kind of knows everybody.

Nate hasn’t changed much at all from back then and that’s one thing that we can really respect and appreciate about him. He’s still the same person as he was when we were kids. The way he plays on the court now is the same way he’s always played. That’s how he is. He’d be doing back flips at our track meets and running around. He always had a lot of energy and it just seemed like he never got tired. He’s also a great dancer and when we were in school, he and a few of his friends would always perform New Edition songs at our assemblies.

He might not do that anymore, but he’s still the same caring person, still hyper and loud, and he never acts like he’s too big for anybody. He pays homage to Seattle. He recognizes where he came from, who his friends are and the people closest to him who helped him get to where he is.

He’s a great father and a compassionate man to other people, especially his family. As a father, he’s very hands on and will do anything for his children even though he doesn’t live in the same city as them. He might spend more time with his kids than a father that does live in the same city as his kids. His family is everything to him and he really puts an emphasis on that. There’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t let them know how much he cares. He’s a really good friend. If anybody is ever in need of something, Nate will have their back.

But he’s always been treated that way by other people, so you learn from that. People have extended their heart and been compassionate to him, so I feel like you learn from that and become that kind of person. That’s something that both of us take from growing up in Seattle.

That’s why you see a lot of athletes from Seattle coming back to give back. We all pay respect to the city we grew up in because nobody makes it alone. We’ve all had somebody along the way that has helped us and boosted us, so it feels right to be able to do that for somebody else and give back to the community if you’re able.

I've known Nate and Jamal a long time and they represent Seattle well.


It was cool to watch both of Nate and Jamal in the playoffs having the year of their lives. I think this was the best year that each of them has had. I’m glad that Nate and his team are in their second round. I hope they can get out of this hole. Miami is going to be a tough team to beat of course, but I hope the Bulls can advance. I was really sorry to see that Jamal and the Clippers didn’t advance because they played so incredibly well this year. I love watching these guys do well and I always want success for them.

Nate has always been an incredible athlete. Growing up he was really good in basketball, football and track. From the time we were little, people started calling him “Nate the Great” and if you hear something that many times, you believe it. In his mind, he has to live up to that name and he does.

He was always one of the shorter kids and stocky, but that never hindered his performance or stopped him from being the athlete that he is. I’m sure some people took him for granted because of his size, but I think as they watched him compete, they learned quick who he was and what he could do.

He used to always challenge me at track practice because, believe or not, as short as he is, we both did the hurdles. He always wanted to see if it he was going to beat me and I would say “of course you’re going to beat me, you’re a guy.” But I was so fast that I think a lot of people just wanted to challenge me. I like to think that I beat him at least once. I can’t really remember, but I think I must have. I was just too competitive not to.

I remember him saying in high school that in college he was going to play basketball and football, and run track. We were all like “yeah right.” But I feel like if anybody could do all three of those it would be Nate.

Nate probably could have gone pro in football if not basketball.

I don’t really know what it takes for you to be on the pro level in football and basketball, but I always thought he was great at all three and could’ve been pro at each one.  I always knew him on the track first, so I thought he was a great runner, but in high school he really showed himself on the basketball court. At that point, I realized he had a future in basketball.

When he got to college, he played both football and basketball. I went to USC and remember going to the football game when Washington played down here and I thought then that he was good enough to make it at football. But I don’t know if his talent would have flourished the way it has in basketball, so I think he chose the right one for him.

I’ve known for a while that Nate is a capable of greatness, but what he has done this postseason has even shocked and impressed me. Watching him, he’s in his zone and thinking “this is not a game.” He’s serious out there. He’s trying to get it done. He’s really tough and he’s holding his own. When he blocked LeBron’s shot, I thought that was amazing. He’s been hitting some clutch shots that the team needs and making some great plays out there. I’ve always thought he had that in him because I believe if anybody puts their all toward something, you can maximize your potential beyond anything you ever thought you could do.

He’s played through a lot of different things this postseason, from the flu and throwing up on the sidelines to a busted lip, but that doesn’t surprise me. I’ve never seen Nate tired and I’ve definitely never seen Nate quit. I used to think he had all the energy in the world.

Before we would have to race at track meets he would never get a rest, he was never sitting down. He was always running around, doing flips in the middle of the field, but he always went out there and did what he was supposed to do on the track. He’s that person that nothing breaks him. He’s going to keep going regardless and you have to respect that.

Back to Work

I’ve been back on the track for about a month now, and it feels like I never left. We started training in early December, and after a few weeks, I feel like I’m right where I need to be, and I’m building a great base.

I’m honestly doing a little better than I thought I was going to do. The first two weeks of training are just so grueling you almost feel like you’ve never run track before, after sitting for the offseason and trying to get back into the groove of it. It’s hard to get back into that routine of going hard, and tiring your body out every day. But after a week or two, you fall right back into place. That doesn’t mean the workouts get any easier, though.

I’ve made a few changes in my training going into this season. The biggest was in my weight-training program. I started working with Travelle Gaines, who is a really well known trainer and works with a lot of NFL players. So far, he has been amazing. He’s encouraging and very down to earth.

The atmosphere is very different from what I’m used to for weight training. There are a lot of pro athletes who train with Travelle in there working hard daily. Being in that kind of atmosphere for any athlete, I think, is motivating. You have no choice but to jump in, train the same way and not lag.

I really like Travelle because he’s very knowledgeable and he makes me work hard. I could see a difference in my body and my strength level in just the first two weeks. I like the areas of my body that we’re strengthening, and I like the non-stop workouts. That’s like my personality: go, go, go.


I’m thankful for everyone that had helped me and previously trained with because they were there at that time to help me with what I was trying to accomplish. But I’m happy to have moved on to this atmosphere, and Travelle as a coach. I have no doubt that he’s going to help me get better.

My average day starts at around 6 a.m, so I can say my prayers, eat breakfast and get ready. I have to be in the weight room to meet Travelle at 8 a.m., and we work out non-stop for an hour. It’s a lot of circuit training and he doesn’t let me stop moving for that hour. From there, I head over to UCLA to do my running workout with the group and Bobby Kersee.

The group is a little smaller this year because some people retired or are taking some time off, so there’s just five of us. We’ve been doing a little more hurdling early this year, and that’s the earliest we’ve ever pulled out the hurdles, so that’s something different that I like. But mostly we just run.

We never know what Bobby has planned before we get there. There’s never really a set timeframe for our workouts. It’s more based on how many meters we’re running that day, and how those are broken down. But it always feels good when you get through that workout, and you’re like, “Wow, I did better than I thought I could.”

I can remember one workout in particular that was pretty crazy. He had us start off with two fast 500ms, and he had us thinking we were done. Our legs were really heavy and had a lot of lactic acid build-up, and then he had us walk 400 meters, get on the line and start another sprint. We don’t usually do that many, but by the end of the workout, we’d done a few 200s, a couple 300s and then an all-out 200 at the end. It really broke us down, but that’s the kind of training that we like. When you break your body down like that, that’s what gets you to where you need to be.

There’s definitely a method to his madness. Sometimes we don’t understand what he’s doing, where he’s coming from or why he’s doing what he is, but it’s proven to work. I think a lot of athletes feel that way about their training and can relate to that. All we know is that it works.

NEW HORIZONS
I still have my sights set on doing indoors this season. Usually we train through indoors, but I think I’ll be ready to go and put out a good race when the time comes in February.

With the recent events in Connecticut and with my uncle passing, one of the things I’ve realized is that I want to take everything I’m doing and just enjoy it, because you never know when it can be taken away from you. I’m really appreciative and thankful for the opportunities that I have. A lot of people would kill to be in the position we’re in, and to be able to compete on a world-class level in any sport.

I never want to be complacent or complain or take anything for granted, because it can all be gone and it will be gone one day. I’m not going to run track forever. I don’t want to look back and say I didn’t enjoy this or appreciate these moments.

A place to set and knock down goals.

I’m looking ahead to 2013 an opportunity and a clean slate. 2012 was a great year. Yeah, I wanted some things to go differently, but I’m always a person who is humbled and thankful. I did the best that I could in every race. There are always things that you can do better on or change or add to your workouts. But I can really say that I left the line for every race knowing that I put it all out there.

I just want to continue doing that on the track and in my life period, putting it all out there, putting my best foot forward and working hard. And the things I wasn’t able to do make me even hungrier and drive me to work even harder going forward.

Another thing I’ve learned is that if you stay stuck in the past, it’s really hard to jump into your future, whether it goes the way you want it to or not. I just leave it all behind, because in track, with it being a World Championship year especially, people forget what you’ve done. It’s all about what you’re going to do and the World Championships. When the next Olympics comes around, it will be the same thing. You can’t dwell on what you’ve accomplished because no one else does, and you end up left behind.

I pretty much have the same goal I always have and that’s to be the best. Every time anyone steps on the line, they want to be the best. My goal is to be the best hurdler, go to World Championships and win a gold medal. Whatever it is at the top of my game that I can accomplish, that’s my goal.

Looking Back, Moving Forward and Celebrating a VMA BDay

I’m coming off one of the most successful track seasons of my career. Pushing aside what happened at Trials, it was a pretty good year for me.

When I missed out on the Olympics, I never would have imagined the rest of my season going as well as it did. In those first few days after Trials, I was questioning whether I would ever be successful at this. It was in that next race I ran in Paris on July 6th that things clicked and it was different. I ran a season’s best that day, a 12.59. It was my best time since 2007.

It wasn’t the fastest time, but at that moment, given where I had been emotionally those few days before, I was so appreciative of it. Even though I didn’t win that race, it was probably my best meet of the season since it was my fastest time. That’s how I gauge it, not on whether I win or not. It was a positive for me and brought an upside to my season.

After that, I started to look at the rest of the season a little differently. I knew that I could go out and win some races, try to get a decent world ranking and go for the Diamond League title. I thought maybe I could even get another season’s best or maybe a PR. I really started looking forward to racing again. It gave me some confidence and I finished out that post-Trials stretch with two wins and several fast times.

I came home after that and kept working. Having to stay home and train while the Olympics were going on was really hard. I wanted to try to get another season’s best or at least pick back up where I left off before the Olympics. I didn’t want to go backwards. I think I did pretty well managing that. I just tried to maintain everything I did before. It’s hard to push yourself when you’re just by yourself and everyone was gone at the Olympics.

My coach Bobby Kersee gave me some workouts to do and Shawn helped me out by coaching me through my flat running and my hurdling. I kept up the training and kept up in the weight room. I just tried to remember how I’d run before and focus on how I could try and better my time. That was my goal, to better my times and get wins.

I have a lot of faith in my training. I don’t think that the way I trained and the things I did kept me from succeeding at trials, I just don’t think I peaked at the right time. I think I peaked a little later in the season than I’d like to, but I never felt it coming on. I went over there ready to have fun and I ran my season’s best. That was a peak for me.

Watching the Olympics and then going to Europe and facing those runners that I saw run the event at the Olympics motivated me. It made me want to be on my P’s and Q’s and see what I could do the rest of the season. I went on to win two more races after the Olympics against some of the best competition in the world. I’m proud of that.

My last race in Croatia at the Zagreb meet is the one that will stick with me. It felt good to go out with a bang and finish my season with a W. We were all tired at that point, but I had a good time. It was a good feeling to end right there. I’ve only finished two whole seasons in my career. It’s hard to finish a whole season injury-free in this sport because it’s so long. But to finish what I started and do it with a W sticks out to me the most.

I know now that I have that in me. This is something that I love and I’m not going to give it up. There are a lot of athletes I saw this year that really triumphed and I was at these meets so I saw them go through their ups and downs. Some of these people made their first team this year. For me, I’ve made teams before and I know I can do it again. But just watching those people never give up and being patient, it’s inspiring.

VMA BDAY
The day after I got back home from that meet in Croatia, a friend of mine surprised me for my birthday with tickets to the MTV Video Music Awards here in LA.

Enjoying my early birthday present!

It was a last-second thing the day before my birthday and she totally got me. I was going to get my hair done and she called me and told me to be ready in a few hours. It was exciting.

I’d never been to the VMA’s before. I’ve been to the BET Awards and a lot of other functions down here, but not the VMA’s.

It was interesting to pull back the curtain and see how everything is done behind the scenes. It’s so different from what you would see on TV during the show. They’re constantly setting and re-setting the stages.

When you’re watching at home, it makes it look like the performers have just come out when their performance starts, but you can see them already sitting there when you’re at the show.

They’ll be presenting awards and saying “next we’ll have a performance from such and such” and that artist is already sitting on stage waiting. You can watch the stage being built and they’re constantly moving people around in the first row. It’s all very choreographed.

All the people that are standing on the floor by the stage, they keep repositioning them to keep building the stage. It’s almost like they’re a part of the act. It is a lot of work. At first I wanted to be down there by the stage, but after seeing them moved around all the time, I was glad we weren’t down there.

Where we were sitting, we had great seats and could see everything. We had a great view of the entire venue, not just the stage. We were looking around to see all the artists and point out people. We saw Lil Wayne, Nikki Minaj, Drake, Chris Brown, all those guys. That was pretty cool. My favorite performance was Alicia Keys. Pink’s performance was good too.

It was a great start to a great birthday weekend. Everybody treated the whole weekend like it was my birthday all the way until Monday. I had a fantastic birthday, one of the best I’ve ever had.