IN A BLINK, CANDACE HILL BECOMES A TRACK SENSATION

By Steve Hummer – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It is coming up on a year now since life forever changed for Candace Hill, in exactly 10.98 seconds.

That’s 10 heartbeats, give or take skip. That’s all it took to go from fairly unassuming junior-to-be in the science and technology magnet program at Rockdale County High School to “Fastest Girl in the World.”

If she so much had blinked coming out of the blocks or shortened a single stride by a fraction of an inch when running her record 100 meters last June in Washington, her world does not flip on its axis. She doesn’t become the first high school girl to break the 11-second barrier and assume the superhero title that came with crashing through that ceiling.

She doesn’t become the youngest American track and field athlete to sign a professional contract, doing a 10-year deal with the apparel company Asics in December.

She doesn’t take on a personal pit crew that includes a coach, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and sports psychologist. (Despite the wealth of expert nutritional information at her disposal Hill has protected one important part of her uncomplicated childhood — Froot Loops cereal remains an important part of her training table).

 

Candace Hill, foreground, works on her form during a recent training session near Rockdale County High School. 

She doesn’t become the first professional athlete to be named to the Rockdale County High homecoming court. “I didn’t know I was going to win. I saw my name on the ballot, and I didn’t even vote for myself,” she said.

She certainly doesn’t loom as a possible Olympian before her time and one of the more beguiling stories going into the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials the first of July.

So much happened so quickly in the wake of that phenomenal clocking. What didn’t happen very much was actual running on a track against other very fast people. As a professional, Hill was unable to compete for her high school team. As a serious student, sporting a GPA over the 4.0 bar, she wasn’t free this spring to venture off to any of the paying meets.

 

Under the gaze of coach Tony Carpenter, Candace Hill, center, works out with teammates Victoria Powell, left, and Zalika Dixon. 

Thus, her outdoor professional debut was delayed until Saturday, conveniently near home, at an American Track League meet at Lakewood Stadium. It was an understated debut, as Hill finished fourth in the 100 meters (11.42) and third in the 200 meters (23.12).

Hill was always fast, blowing past her classmates during the end-of-year elementary-school field days. But her parents didn’t know at first exactly what to do with that native speed, not thinking to get their daughter involved in any sort of organized track program until middle school.

“I assumed she would be the typical child who would pick up a sport and get bored with it and want to try something else like ballet or skating or gymnastics, the usual,” said Hill’s mother, Lori. “I wasn’t going to invest yet in her until she demonstrated a passion for it, which was when she started running organized track and field in seventh grade.”

 

Candace Hill makes running fast look very easy say those who have watched her in action. 

The sight of Hill at full gallop evokes some powerful imagery.

Friends tell her mother how much Candace makes each sprint seem like an effortless glide. When her daughter runs, it always makes Lori Hill think of a gazelle.

Hill provides a more intimate image.

“When I’m running at my top speed it,” she said, “it feels like I’m running on clouds. I feel like I’m flying down the track.”

The child of parents who possess no overt athletic ability — neither Lori, a retired mental-health clinician nor her father, Gary, an aircraft technician, own a collection of dusty trophies and ribbons. Which naturally raises the question: Where the heck did all this — the long legs and the fluid speed — come from?

Her mother suspects a certain great Aunt Lilly who worked on her top-end speed around the house in South Carolina. “There’s a story my great aunt was able to chase down her children whenever they misbehaved,” Lori Hill said. “She would be sitting on the porch, they’d be in the yard and they thought they had a good head start on her. And she was still able to catch them.”

It’s not exactly as if Hill went into the Brooks PR Invitational outside Seattle on June 21 as a stationary object. As a Rockdale County freshman she had won state titles in the 100 and 200 in record times. It’s just that the 10.98 clocking was a Grand Canyon-scale leap over even that accomplishment — obliterating the old world youth record by 12-hundredths of a second.

Hill and her family at first reacted cautiously. They wondered, could that have been just one perfect race on one perfect day, never to duplicated? But then, a month later in the World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia, Hill won both at both 100 and 200 meters.

One of the challenges the people around her faced was convincing Hill that she was something special. She was 16 when she broke the record, turning 17 in February. That age does not always lead to acute self-awareness.

“She wasn’t quite ready to wrap her brain around the fact that she was faster than most collegiate athletes,” Hill’s mother said. “All her life she was planning on going to college and running for a college, so she couldn’t even see by that. When I and her coaches and her dad sat down and explained to her that she was pretty much past that, it took a couple weeks before she got on board.”

Per the way she is accepting the grand title bestowed upon her after the Washington race, Hill seems to be getting the hang of it. “It’s weird to think about, but yeah, I really am the fastest girl in the world,” she said after a training session last week, sounding only a little amazed. “It sounds like hyperbole, like you’re exaggerating. But think about it, yeah, I really am.”

And when you are the Fastest Girl in the World, everything gets recalibrated.

She switched coaches, going to Tony Carpenter, who founded Atlanta’s Titans Track Club. Carpenter built around her a group of training partners to instill a sense of team and to give her someone with whom to share day-to-day drudgery.

Now, when she looks to college, it is as purely a place to work on a degree while wearing corporate colors on the track. Georgia is atop her list now. Part of the Asics contract covers her college expenses.

She had her first taste of merging the separate pursuits of school and a professional track career for the second half of her junior year at Rockdale County. Of course, idle time shrank to nothing, between school work and training. And she did miss running for the high school team, popping in on meets this spring only to see her little sister run. Overall, she said, “I feel like I balanced it pretty well.”

And now that she was something of a celebrity, Hill noticed a few more kids asking her to sign their yearbooks at the school year’s end.

Managing the pressures and demands that come with being a professional has been part of the program, as well. The Asics contract, points out Carpenter, extends a decade, allowing for patience. “(Asics) supports the idea of bringing her along slowly,” he said.

“We try to keep the pressure away because it’s not productive,” her mother said.

“We tell her to have fun and enjoy it, that it’s a process, it’s a journey. Just do your best and set your own goals and be proud of yourself and we will always be supportive no matter what.”

Given that Hill is still so young and will grow more and more into her speed, the 2020 Olympic Games would seem to hold all kinds of golden potential. However, no one around her will concede anything going into August’s Games in Brazil. The time she ran at the Brooks PR meet would have placed Hill seventh in the 2012 Games in London and tied for silver in 2008.

In the meantime, she gets to hold onto one undisputed title for, um, how long exactly?

“Until 20, no 18, that’s the age,” Hill said. “Then I will be like, ‘I was the Fastest Girl in the World. Now, I have to be the Fastest Woman in the World.”

Article from: http://www.myajc.com/news/sports/in-a-blink-conyers-hill-becomes-a-track-sensation/nrYwF/
Johnny Bailey