By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(20-May) — Coming down the homestretch of the women’s 1500m at last Friday’s USATF Distance Classic in Los Angeles, Sheila Reid was the picture of strength. The 27 year-old Canadian Olympian, who won four NCAA titles for Villanova, was battling American 1500m record holder Shannon Rowbury for the win. To the surprise of the small crowd assembled on the concrete bleachers at Jack Kemp Stadium at Occidental College, Reid edged Rowbury by one-tenth of a second in 4:07.07, locking in a qualifying time for the 2017 IAAF World Championships.
Although her mark was modest by Reid’s high standards, it was in its own way a revelation.
“Four-oh-seven is still five seconds off of my personal best,” Reid earnestly told reporters, hands on hips. “But, two months ago if you told me that I would be in a position to run a world standard I would have laughed at you. I was so out of shape, and really dejected. I just kind of found my fitness, found my groove again.”
Reid, who is originally from Newmarket, Ontario, but runs for the Nike-sponsored Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, has spent the last 12 months fighting for a career she loves, but which has sometimes been cruel to her. At the same meet a year ago, she had no idea that a small pain in her right leg would lead to a devastating cluster of injuries which nearly pushed her to hang up her spikes for good. The sixth-fastest Canadian of all-time with a career 1500m best of 4:02.96, Reid was forced to miss last summer’s Rio Olympics and take a full five months off from training. She couldn’t even cross-train.
“Olympic years are hard,” Reid explained, locking eyes with this reporter. “You either come out the other side really, really motivated, or you are just jaded and maybe just a little bit apathetic because you’re just so physically and mentally drained from the experience. Having been injured, I was the latter. It was hard, especially since it took so long for the injury to heal. I was off for, like, five months doing nothing, no cross training.”
After running a fine 4:05.74 at the Occidental meet in 2016, Reid could hardly walk the next day. But determined to make it to Rio, she took her 1500m starting spot at the high-stakes Prefontaine Classic just eight days later and ripped a 4:03.96. On paper, she was in prime position to make her second Olympic appearance, but the damage had been done: her leg was wrecked.
“I felt a little twinge, but it wasn’t going to keep me from racing,” Reid said of competing at Occidental last May. “And then racing on it, really blew it up. I was kind of hobbling for a week. I ran Pre, and after Pre it was just a downward spiral from there. I kept trying to run on it and run on it, because I just wanted to get to the Trials and make the team. And then, I just made it so much worse. The muscle ended up pulling on the tibia bone so hard that it fractured it. So, what started as a strain and bursitis, I mangled everything.”
On July 8, 2016, Reid posted a tweet to say that she was going to miss the Canadian Olympic Trials in Edmonton, and her Olympic dreams would have to be postponed. “I can assure you that my team and I did everything we could to get me to stand upright on the start line, but simply ran out of time,” she tweeted.
The forced rest caused Reid to feel so many conflicting emotions. Although she couldn’t go to Rio, she was lifted by seeing the success of athletes she knew perform so well there, like now-retired Oregon Track Club Elite teammates Ashton Eaton and his wife Brianne Theisen Eaton. But not being able to compete herself, deepened her pain. The healing process was incredibly slow, and she seriously considered quitting.
“I thought I knew what my rock-bottom was, (but) I was even lower than that,” Reid recalled. “It was so difficult, you know, especially when the thing you love so much keeps hurting you. Like, it felt that running was hurting me. I’d gone to this point where I’d come back after a couple of years off. I was poised to make the Olympic team. I’d run really close to my personal best, and I got knocked back down again. Like, why do I keep trying to hang on to this thing?”
But slowly she healed and resumed training. It would be 342 days until Reid lined up for a race again, the 2017 Oregon Twilight Meet in Eugene on May 2. It was a Goldilocks kind of race, with the pace not too hot and not too cold. Reid ran a solid 4:10.40 beating collegians Amy-Eloise Neale of Washington and Katie Rainsberger of Oregon. That gave her the confidence to come to the USATF Distance Classic. She began to feel some forward momentum.
“Physically coming back was hard, but mentally I wasn’t sure if I wanted it anymore,” Reid admitted. “It was really frustrating letting things creep into my mind, like maybe that’s all my legs had to give, and my years are done. But, I’m glad that Mark Rowland, my coach, my parents, people from Athletics Canada, really encouraged me to keep digging and believed in me. It’s because of everyone else that I’m still continuing.”
Nearly losing her career in athletics has clearly given Reid a new perspective. She is grateful to be able to use her gift again, and hopes to race a full summer season and line up for the IAAF World Championships in London in August. She knows there are no guarantees.
“It happens to a lot of people,” she said of her setbacks. “I think the biggest thing is you can’t, you can’t think of this as personal or, you know, ‘poor me.’ I mean, it happens to everybody. Not everybody gets to live their dreams every single year, every single Olympic cycle. Hopefully, I put my time in, paid my dues, and I want to be there in 2020, for sure.”