By Jess Zutz
Though it looked like a familiar track and field meet at Hayward Field today, it felt like anything but. With a steady rain falling on their heads, high jumpers jumped, pole vaulters soared, steeplechasers trudged, triple jumpers leapt, and javelin throwers heaved. And with the exclamation point of a brilliant bolt of lightening and a single clap of thunder, the 21,000 spectators at Hayward Field could feel the shared passion and excitement surging through the common raindrops that fell on their heads.
It was clear on the faces of both the steeplechasers and 5000m runners that these were some of the most difficult races they had ever run in their lives. With each of these preliminary heats attempting to balance the sidesplitting pace necessary to win and the physical maintenance required to run yet another grueling race in a few days, it was clear that each of these athletes was having an internal mental battle just as difficult as the external physical battle.
But one competitor felt that any finishing result would be an enormous bonus, and that simply toeing the starting line was a huge achievement.
That athlete is Lauren Fleshman, an elite distance runner who hasn’t run, essentially, in six months. She stayed with the pack for the entirety of the second heat in today’s 5000m race, which featured premier runners like Molly Huddle, the current American record holder, and Amy Hastings, already a 2012 Olympian after winning the 10,000m race on Saturday. Lauren’s look of sheer disbelief as she crossed the finish line in sixth after an incredible surge of determination captured the words she would shortly thereafter utter in the media tent: “Somehow I made the Olympic Trials final on very little running.” She mentioned yesterday that she swims and trains on an ElliptiGO, but she hadn’t run more than 10 miles in a week since February.
That takes courage.
And that’s exactly what Lauren was going for. Courage. Whenever she feels like she wants to quit and needs that courageous boost, which she certainly felt over the last couple hundred meters of her race, she visualizes a “big, beautiful lion.” And her tiny frame certainly looked like anything but a graceful lion bounding with ease. Her face twisted in a grimace, each shortened stride pounding into the wet track, and with her arms chugging at her sides serving as the primary force driving her forward, Lauren crossed the finish line blowing her goal of courage clear out of Hayward Field, clear out of Lane County, and perhaps all the way to London. What did resemble a lion was Lauren’s sheer strength of willpower to push her body well beyond its limits.
Today’s race was one of the single most inspirational races we have ever seen. Lauren readily states that she is anything but strong physically; her body is weak. But her impressive efforts show us that anything is possible if you just believe. Lauren admitted that Hayward Field is a very public display and that there is no hiding. But that she feels there is more to be gained by sharing with the public. We say share away, Lauren. What you did yesterday is a huge inspirational gain for generations to come.