Siana Emery qualified for her seventh NAIA National Championship in the first race walk meet of the season held in the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center on Saturday.
The co-ed field of 11 that lined up on the south side of the track at 11am included race walkers from Cornerstone, Concordia, Rio Grande and Goshen College, as well as three unattached competitors.
“On your marks, get set, go” was the underwhelming start, and the competitors were off, hips swaying, arms pumping, heads gliding forward, oddly still. Their goal: to finish the 14 1/2 laps as quickly as possible without being flashed by the judges’ yellow “loss of contact” or “bent knee” warning paddles. After three warnings, the red paddle indicates disqualification.
Emery “sprinted” over the line in 16 minutes, 12 seconds, a time that won her second place for her gender in the 3 kilometer race and put her comfortably under the A standard of 16:30. She was one of six athletes in to qualify that day by hitting either the automatic or provisional time standards.
While racewalk is an official sport in the Olympics (20km and 50km races are offered), it is only sponsored at the collegiate level by members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Goshen’s team of two – comprised of Siana Emery (a senior) and Hayley Bickford (a sophomore) – is about the average size for teams in the area.
Because competition is limited, Emery and Bickford compete against many of the same people at each race.
Hayley Bickford, who came in 5th on Saturday, said, “With racewalk, there’s just a special bond that everyone has. We all kind of know that there aren’t a lot of people who do it. It’s hard not to support each other since you’re so familiar with them and it’s such an odd event.”
Emery has competed at the NAIA track and field national championship every season of her college career. She will attend her last indoor nationals meet on March 5-7 in Brookings South Dakota.
“I would really love to set a PR at Nationals,” she said. “I haven’t really had a performance at a national meet that I have been completely satisfied with in terms of time.” A personal record for Emery would mean finishing under 15 minutes and 29 seconds.
The senior believes the semester she recently spent in Ecuador will help give her the mental edge to reach her goal.
“I wasn’t able to train much in Ecuador,” she said. “But I think being on SST gave me a stronger and more focused mindset.”
“In Ecuador, I learned not to worry too much about things beyond my control. This means taking each day and race as it comes.”
The Goshen College race walk team will return to the track on February 8 for another home meet.