Siana Emery, a first-year, packed up her Saucony A5 shoes and moved just shy of 1,000 miles to Goshen College to compete with other athletes in a track event that isn’t as easy as it sounds: race walking.
Emery, with the encouragement of her parents, began race walking at 5 years old for the United States Track and Field program in Yarmouth, Maine.
“My parents put me in the U.S. Track and Field track program for kids, and I wanted to do three events a week,” Emery said. “So, my mom taught me to race walk because I needed an event to do.”
Emery’s parents were both track and cross country athletes throughout high school and college. Emery’s mother had history in coaching so she was ready when Emery needed to learn how to race walk.
“She looked up videos on how to [race walk], and she figured it out herself, I guess,” Emery said. “When she taught me, she definitely rewatched videos.”
Now, at 18, Emery has over 13 years of race walking experience.
Race walking has two main rules: one foot must be on the ground at all times and, with each step, the front leg needs to be straight when it hits the ground. During the track event, judges watch competitors with paddles. If a participant gets a paddle waved at them three times, they’re disqualified.
From the beginning of her high school career at Greely High School, Emery placed at the Maine Principals’ Association class B state championships each year: sixth place her first year, fourth place her sophomore year, then gold in both her junior and senior years.
This year will be Emery’s first year race walking at the collegiate level. Her goals for the upcoming season include qualifying for nationals in both indoor and outdoor track.
“It would be really nice to get All-American for one of those meets, at least,” said Emery. “That would be really cool to do as a first-year. Other than that… I want to improve my times. I just want to have a strong first season.”
Although training hasn’t officially started, Emery has spent months preparing for the upcoming season through cross country.
“[Cross country] helps me stay in shape during the off-season,” said Emery. “It also helps with endurance. My old coach used to say, ‘The faster you run, the faster you can walk.’ It’s like cross-training.”
Emery enjoys cross country, but much of her reason to run is to improve her walking skills.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind a lot of the time,” she said. “If I can start doing really well in running, then it will benefit me with my race walking as well.”
Emery found Goshen College on her own. She searched specifically for a school within the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) jurisdiction, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) doesn’t recognize race walking as an official event.
“I did a bunch of research on NAIA schools, and [Goshen College] was one of the only ones I was interested in,” Emery said.
Abby Smith, a Goshen College alumna, said the same thing: “I was looking specifically for a race walking school… and that ruled out basically all schools in the East… I came and visited, and I knew people. It was also the closest school to home, so it’s kind of why I ended up choosing [Goshen College].”
Smith, a fourth-grade teacher at Waterford Elementary, will be working closely with Emery for the next six months as the new race walking coach.
Smith, who holds three outdoor All-American awards from her final season as a GC athlete in 2016, said she was excited and nervous for the upcoming season.
“I’ve done a lot of coaching with kids.” she said. “I ended up coaching for a really long time in the program that I started [race walking] in. This is my first time coaching someone who’s not a high schooler or younger so I’m excited. I think it will be fun, and it will give me a chance to still be connected to the college race walking world.”
Although Smith has faith in Emery, both are aware of the challenges. During her high school years, Emery took home gold for the girl’s one-mile race walk. However, as a college student, she’ll be race walking three kilometers (1.86 miles) during indoor track, and five (3.1 miles) during the outdoor season.
“[Emery’s] done 3Ks before,” Smith said, “and she’s been pretty successful in them, which is great because she hasn’t had a lot of consistent training for just race walking… Her best time in the 3K now would qualify her for nationals already. So, I’m excited.”