Thank you for the year after that, when you introduced her to the triple jump. For the seventh grade teacher who said, just imagine you’re peddling a bike, and ever since then she never forgot how to put those three jumps together.
A couple years after that, you taught her sacrifice. Six a.m. weight lifting workouts in high school on her own at a local gym, followed by a day of class, practice after school, homework, and sleeping and repeating. She learned how to set goals and how to work hard to achieve them. She learned how to take responsibility for her life. She learned that what you put in is what you get out.
Thank you for that phone call from a legendary triple jump coach at Nebraska that told her one of her dreams might just come true.
Thank you for the diagnosis and the doctor who said she may never walk again, but she definitely would never do track again. Maybe if she never felt the possibility of losing her sport forever, she would have never realized just how much she loved it.
Thank you for the surgeon who had a different plan, and the trainers and coaches who helped her get back to an even better level of fitness and strength. You taught her perseverance, resilience, and determination throughout that whole recovery. You rewarded her for her mental and physical toughness with a new PR that same year.
Thank you for showing her the world-from Italy, to Taiwan, to the farthest corners of Canada and numerous states. You gave her opportunities that many people can only dream of.
Thank you for the other young girls that you set your eyes on as well, girls that would become her best friends. Girls that experienced similar journeys and wound up in similar places. Girls who continued to mold her into a confident woman and athlete.
Thank you for teaching her how to pay all of her hard work forward, for showing her that she was able to lead as confidently and strongly as she acted on her own.
Thank you for the countless successes, the times she stood atop podiums, the times she did not win but set new personal records, the times she pushed herself harder than ever before in practice, and the times she bounced back after injuries. Thank you for the times she came so close to her goals and was crushed by the feelings of failure. She learned from those moments that despite all the hours, blood, sweat, and tears, she would never be defined by her sport. She would be defined by her character, her compassion, her work ethic, and her spirit.
That young girl was me. Thank you, track and field, for making me into the woman I am today.
To read more letters from the NCAA Woman of the Year Top 30 honorees: