LIFE LESSONS: AN ACCOUNT BY CANDACE HILL

Many people in the track and field community were left to wonder as to why Candace missed most of her indoor and outdoor seasons.

In January 2016 Candace suffered an immobilizing injury. This injury was kept out of the public eye and media to minimize distractions. With high hopes and expectations to make the US Olympic Team; Candace elected to  undergo a surgery that would impact her chance to compete at the Olympic Games.

Her story has previously gone untold until today. Here are the accounts from Candace, her coach, and a family member to set the record straight.

Perspective from Candace Hill

I was looking forward to being a professional athlete my first year, and my dreams of going to Rio were appearing clearer and closer. And then, I was unfortunately injured. I’ve never been seriously injured…ever. So when I hurt my knee and ended up having to need knee surgery I felt incapacitated.

Recovering from the surgery took four months and I couldn’t even do simple jogging. During those four months instead of going back and forth from track practice and meets, I was going back and forth from physical therapy and home. Throughout this whole mishap I learned a life lesson to stay positive and believe that everything once again will be okay.

When I was released by the doctors to train it was June 2016, and I only had one month to prepare for the Olympic Trials. I trained harder than ever and I was determined to make the team. That was another life lesson, “When given an opportunity, any opportunity to respect that opportunity.”

July 1st finally rolls around, and this is the moment l’ve been dreaming about for 456 days. The USA Track and Field Olympic Trials. It was my first day of competition and I was scheduled to run the 100 meter preliminaries. I made it past the first round, however I didn’t make it through the semifinals ending my chances of making the team for the 100 meters. I was so sad and so depressed. I’ve been through enough hurdles this season that I couldn’t believe that another one was thrown at me. I picked myself back up and I was ready to try again one last time for the 200 meters. Similar to how my 100 meters resulted, I failed to make it to the finals. I was devastated and disappointed in myself about how I performed. The goal that I set was taken away from me, and my short season came to an abrupt end. I told myself this was by far the worst season I ever had and that track, something I truly loved, had let me down. I felt that I had failed everyone, my family, my coaches, ASICS, my friends, former track mates; everyone.

But I didn’t give up then. And I haven’t given up now. Those were the greatest life lessons and experiences that I gained. I look back on my 2016 season and I turned it into a learning experience. I learned that you can’t doubt yourself, you must trust in yourself if you want to continue to rise, and be the best that you can be. You can’t give up when things don’t go your way or nothing turns out as you have planned. You just have to keep going and use the struggles and obstacles as motivation. I believe the best way to learn something is through experience.

Ironically, it was one of my favorite childhood stories, “The Little Engine That Could” that helped me recognize the fundamental positive potential from what I had previously viewed as a dead end failure. I am using my 2016 track season experience as the positive motivational foundation for my 2017 London World Championships, and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and everything beyond. So despite all that happened this year I finally understood the reason for these tough hindrances. I will use this as gas to fuel my flame, knowing that if I stay positive and believe in myself, I can accomplish anything! Watch out world, this girl is on fire!

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Perspective from Coach Tony Carpenter

In nearly 20 years of coaching, never have I entered a season with as much anticipation and excitement. The opportunity to lead the performance of a young lady who many believe could be the fastest ever female to put on a pair of spikes is not one that I would take lightly.   As we prepared for the Olympic trials and a possible ticket to Rio, we recognized that we needed to prepare both physically and mentally. However, because of her young age and past success we didn’t want to make too many changes too soon. From day one, an emphasis was put on keeping it fun for Candace and focusing on her long term development both on and off the track.

A small training group to give Candace a sense of team was assembled and fall training began in October.  This is the earliest Candace had ever started training but it was necessary to compete as a professional.  What took place over the next 10 months was absolutely amazing.  After 8 weeks of training, it was time to take the training wheels off and do an assessment in practice.  The assessment indicated to us that we were moving in the right direction and nearly ready for indoor competition.

Six weeks later Candace would line up for the first time as a professional and face other seasoned professionals.  The pressure of winning out the gate was quite noticeable and with a 60 PR of 7.52, it was obvious that she would need to run much faster than she ever had to win.  The big day came and she easily ran away from the competition dropping more than 2 tenths off her 60 PR and more than 2 seconds off her 400 leg of the 4 x 400.  Nothing could have been better for Team Candace. Every goal established for the first competition had been achieved. The stage was now set for a monster season. Or so we thought.

Only a few days after her first outing, I received a phone call stating that Candace had been hurt and could not walk. The injury stemmed from a fall on her knee at home.  We quickly set up the necessary appointments to have her evaluated and over the next several weeks, Candace would see multiple doctors, go thru X-rays and a MRI. Nothing appeared to be wrong according to the doctors. Routine therapy and rest was recommended and we cancelled the remaining indoor meets.  It was the first time she had been hurt and unable to compete.  But a few weeks off didn’t concern me.

After several therapy sessions and no running, Candace continued to feel pain in her knee.  So a second opinion was sought. On February 18, I traveled with the family to Vail, Colorado for another MRI and evaluation by one of the nation’s best doctors.  The new MRI highlighted a potential season ending knee surgery would be required. We were told that if all went well Candace could have as little as 5-6 weeks to prepare on the track for the upcoming Olympic Trials.  Without hesitation I watched this amazing young lady hold her head up high and state that she could not run at the moment and that if surgery would give her a remote chance of making the team, she wanted to have the surgery.  The amount of courage it took to make that decision was shocking to me, especially for someone of her age.   The following day she underwent surgery and we began 2-a-day rehab sessions in Vail for almost 2 weeks.  We left vail with a rehab plan that would be executed through May and a projected return to 100% towards late May.   

Nearly 4 months would be lost. Not only had we lost the indoor season, the planned outdoor races were now lost as well.  Instead of doing speed work, plyometrics, starts, etc., Candace was learning how to stand on 1 leg and walk up steps, and riding a stationary bike at a pedestrian like pace and dealing with the biggest setback of her young track career.  We had a lot of work to do and not a lot of time but she never stopped believing. We got very creative with alternative workouts to maintain fitness and worked on her core, upper body strength and flexibility.   We could not afford any setbacks at all.

In June, she had her much anticipated outdoor opener. It did not go as well as we hoped, but I was excited and relieved that she was back competing and had no pain. One week later she faced a world class field in Orlando and managed to run a very respectable 11.19 100 meters and captured her first outdoor win with a 22.38 sprint over 200 meters.  We were a long way from the operating room in Vail and liked our chances of doing well at Juniors and The Trials.  Candace went on to run a season best time in both the 100 and 200 at USATF Juniors in Clovis. She made the semis of both the 100 and 200 at the Olympic trials and established a new world Jr. Meet Record in route to winning the 100 in Poland and anchored the winning 4 x 100 relay.

These achievements are simply amazing and did not come without tremendous sacrifice, dedication and will power from Candace.  I have never seen an athlete accomplish so much after this type of physical setback.  She succeeded against the odds while taking the setback in stride like a true champion.  It’s October and we are back in training and looking forward to building on the great success of 2016. London here we come!

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Perspective from Aunt Joann Davis

My first association with televised professional Athletics was The Wide World of Sports. As a family we would gather around our black-and-white television when there were only three major network stations and watch sporting events. The Olympics were an every four year fascination that we embraced as a family. The love of The Olympics and sports continued, so when The Olympics were hosted in Atlanta my sister and I both volunteered.

Fast forward 20 years from that event and I had a niece, my God child, Candace that had the potential to be an Olympian. We were already proud and supportive of all of her accomplishments both academic and athletic, so I purchased my ticket and hotel for Rio and we were ready to go.

Candace then experienced a devastating and disappointing detour on her road to Rio. She had to have knee surgery and would be prohibited from practicing for 4 months. Candace exhibited courage and conviction when faced with this obstacle. My natural instinct was to protect, shield and save her, but unfortunately this was out of my control. So I watched her attack this adversity with strength, wisdom, and determination. She was down, but not out. She was going to the Olympic Trials in spite of her own personal trials. She stepped to the starting line against girls who had 9 months of training when she only had 9 weeks training. And she gave 100%. We are extremely proud of everything she accomplished both at that the Olympic Trials and in Poland in spite of her challenges.

Why did this have to happen? We will never know. We do not always understand the hand of God, but we must always trust the heart of God. The boys from her high school track team said she was more than a beast, she was a savage so they gave her the nickname of “dasav”…. Warning world dasav is back and she is starving. 

Johnny Bailey