Age is No Hurdle
Training for a heptathlon can be tricky, as Charlottesville resident Erika Pierce (Col ’93, Educ ’02) has discovered. The former UVA track and field star is a middle school social studies teacher with two small children, so finding the time and resources to train is challenging. “It’s hard locating a track that leaves its hurdles out, so I’m always looking for an irresponsible track team,” Pierce says with a laugh. “Who wants a crazy 44-year-old woman hurdling on their track?”
Perhaps they wouldn’t mind if they knew that Pierce is a nine-time Masters track and field champion. After graduating from UVA, Pierce coached and ran professionally, competing at the 1996 Olympic Trials in the 400m hurdles. After the Trials, she took 18 years off, occasionally running a road race. Then, three years ago, she began training for the Masters division of track and field, open to athletes over 30. This March, she set the American record at the U.S. Indoor Heptathlon Championships.
Pierce doesn’t have a trainer or a coach. Instead, she uses tiki torches as practice javelins and searches for hurdles. “It’s been fun racking up these medals as an adult,” Pierce says. “It’s totally inspiring for me to watch older people still compete and love being out there.”
Chasing Olympic Gold
Each day, steeplechase competitor Stephanie Garcia (Col ’10, Grad ’12) spends between four and five hours training with her Furman Elite teammates in South Carolina. But with so many friends living in Charlottesville, she says she still considers it home.
Garcia began competing in the steeplechase while on the track team at UVA, where she majored in English and government. This August, she placed ninth at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. In 2015, she finished second overall in the U.S.; the year prior, she placed third overall. Her best time is the fourth-fastest time for any U.S. woman in steeplechase history.
“Hopefully that momentum continues this year, since the Olympic Trials are this summer,” Garcia says. After the upcoming indoor season, Garcia will compete in outdoor events in May and June, all building up to the Trials in July 2016. At the Trials in Eugene, Oregon, Garcia hopes to finish in the top three among U.S. competitors, securing her ticket to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Why the steeplechase? “It’s adventurous, athletic, a little bit wild and more fun than racing flat on a track,” Garcia says of the race, which includes hurdles and water jumps.
Former UVA track athlete Robby Andrews (Educ ’14) shocked the world in 2010 when, as a first-year, he came from the back of the pack—literally—to win the 800m NCAA indoor championship. He won the outdoor 800m NCAA title in 2011 and turned pro after two years at UVA. But an undiagnosed ruptured hernia hindered his 2013 professional season. So he returned to UVA in 2014 to complete his degree in kinesiology, graduating that December. And following a successful surgery on his hernia, Andrews, now 24, hit the track again.
In 2014, Andrews placed second in the 1500m at the USA Track & Field National Championships, advancing to the IAAF World Championships, where he finished 11th. Now, he is training for the 2016 Olympic Trials in the 800m and 1500m races.
As for his dramatic, from-last-to-first-place victory style, Andrews says he’s working on a few other tactics to utilize during competition. “[My known style] is what I’m most comfortable with, but we’re definitely working on having other styles and tools to use,” Andrews says—tools he hopes to use in Rio during the 2016 Olympics.