Not many qualifiers for the Olympic Track and Field trials would take a shot at qualifying in a different event the week before the trials, especially in an event they'd not run in three years.
But as Becky Wade toured Rice's Ley Track surface on June 16 in the 3,000 meter steeplechase during an all-comers meet, it was more than just an attempt to gain a second entry to the trials and the chance to toss aside her spot in the 10,000 meters. It was a return to the event that perfectly meshes her earliest love in track with the skills that made her an All American three times in her senior year at Rice.
When Wade takes to the starting line early Monday evening in Eugene, she'll do so with the ninth fastest time in the field (9:48.04), recorded nine days earlier time trial on her home track. The goal will be to finish in the top 14 and advance to the final on June 29 where a finish in the top three will give her a second chance to don the uniform of her country, something she last did as a freshman in 2008. That year, she won the US Junior title in the steeplechase and went on to compete in the Junior World Championships in Poland that same year.
The journey between that race in Poland and the one in Eugene on Monday has been filled with challenges that might have brought lesser souls to surrender. No one would have thought the worse of her if she had called it a career. Instead, they are just benchmarks along a successful construction of an amazing set of accomplishments.
Wade earned All American status in cross country in the fall with a 23rd place finish at the NCAA Championships, followed by a second honor during the indoor season by finishing 13th in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She capped her season by scoring a point for Rice with an eight-place finish in the 10,000 meters, earning a berth in the Olympic Trials along the way.
She was awarded the Joyce Pounds Hardy Award as Rice's top female student athlete, inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, named an Academic All America and was awarded a Thomas J. Watson fellowship.
But even with all her success and accolades, nary a week went by in her training for her epic senior season when Wade did not pester her coach Jim Bevan with a familiar request.
"She was always very nice about it, but also very persistent. She wasn't going to let me forget that she wanted to try it again," Bevan recalled.
Wade's grueling recovery from surgery to repair a torn labrum, requiring countless miles of running, built her strength and endurance to allow her to achieve the kind of success Bevan always believed was in her future. Both also knew that one day the steeplechase would re-enter the discussion.
"I knew I had to be conservative with the comeback from my surgery, but I never let Jim forget that I wanted to run it again at some point," Wade said. "Whenever we'd reach a new milestone and things were going well, I'd ask about doing some hurdles, but Jim would always say we needed a couple more weeks. Jim has always been there to pull the reigns and keep me in check and that's something I've needed."
For Wade, it was a return to the skills that had been her specialty when she first competed in high school track.
As a freshman at Dallas' Ursuline Academy, Wade had been identified by hurdles coach Dan Hardy as a candidate to run the 300 meter hurdles and she quickly found the event to her liking.
"He (Hardy) told me he thought I had potential in the hurdles, so I tried it some in the preseason and I thought it was fun," Wade recalled. "I enjoyed it and ran it as a freshman and sophomore. Cross country was more of a training time for me at that time."
After two years of focusing her competitive energy on the 300 meter hurdles, Wade's track future took a turn away from launching herself over barriers on the track towards the sport's longest distances.
Hardy passed away prior to her junior season and at the same time, Maureen Shinnick returned to the school as cross country coach. Shinnick saw Wade's vast potential in a sport she had only treated as a conditioning exercise and set about convincing her of where her true potential lay.
"She saw the potential in me that I hadn't really shown at that point," Wade recalled "She is a great coach and did a great job in motivating me to see that my real potential was in cross country. Before her, I really didn't know how far I could go in track."
Over the next two years, Wade validated Shinnick's vision, becoming one of the top distance runners in the state. She caught the eye of Bevan, who recruited her to Rice and to a sparkling first year that ended with a chance to represent her country in international competition.
Her introduction to the event that took her overseas was almost by accident.
"I really didn't know that the steeplechase existed when I first came to Rice." Wade recalled. "I think the first time I was exposed to it was when I saw some of the men's team working on it. We had just finished with the indoor season and I reminded Jim about my hurdling experience. He set up some hurdles on the grass infield and I guess he liked the way I took the hurdles, so I started running it that spring.
"It really was too good to be true, to find an event that combined something that I had loved doing earlier in my track career with the training I was doing for cross country," Wade added.
Along with a place on the 2008 US Junior team, Wade went on to finish second at the 2009 C-USA Championship in a time of 10:19.81, but her continued growth in the distance running events sidetracked any further time navigating the hurdles and water jumps until her return to the event less than two weeks before the Olympic Trials.
As soon as she began the race, Wade's found herself loving every step, especially in comparison to the rigors of the 10,000 meters.
"It's so fun to run the steeplechase," she noted. "It's so refreshing to be doing something new. You have something to anticipate each lap and prepare for. When you run the 10,000, you spend a lot of time thinking about splits. You run for 29 minutes to get to a lap to go. Now I run for a few minutes, clear some hurdles and get to the final lap."
Unlike most of their fellow student-athletes, college distance runners do not have an off-season. From the fall cross country campaign, through indoor and outdoor track seasons, the need to maintain a competitive focus rarely wanes.
When you consider the rigorous academic expectations at Rice, Wade's ability to maintain a 4.02 GPA while triple majoring in history, sociology and psychology, is astounding.
To do so while also enduring a long and often painful rehabilitation process is hard to comprehend, and to then see all these elements come together to place her in contention of earning a ticket to London makes the story almost too good to be true.
Wade will admit now to dreaming big dreams in the course of her long road back, but the pace with which some of those dreams come tantalizing close to reality has surprised even her.
"I always had big dreams for the outcome of the surgery, but would never share them with anyone but my parents and Jim," she admitted. "To tell people in the first months after the surgery that I expected to be running in the Olympic Trials this week would have been preposterous. But I knew I would be able to get over the challenge of rehab. This was always the goal, be it this year or in 2016. "
When Wade shattered the school 10,000 record with a 32:40.82 clocking early in the outdoor season to earn a berth in the Trials, Bevan quickly did the match and knew what it foretold.
"I knew that she was not going make the team in the 10,000, but the pace she ran to get the school record put her right in the mix for the steeplechase," he said "It was something we had to do gradually and always with an eye on keeping her healthy. We had a first workout with some hurdles, and then she came back the next day feeling great. A week later, we added more hurdles with the same result. We worked up to a final full workout that was designed to reflect a full steeplechase and she handled it like a champ.
"It was then that I knew we had to go for it. She might have had a chance to be an NCAA champion in the steeplechase, but that would have required rushing the process and risking a setback. It also might have beaten her up to the point where she might have won that race, but this would not be possible." Bevan added.
One additional advantage of switching events has been the time it has given Wade to take in some of the atmosphere surrounds the trials. She and Bevan had booked their travel to coincide with the 10,000 meter race, which was held last Friday.
She has taken full advantage of the additional time.
"I've been able to watch a lot of the competition to this point. The finish of the decathlon, with the world record, was amazing to see in person," she said. "This is an awesome place to compete and the fans here are so knowledgeable about all the events. You could see that in the way they cheered during the end of the decathlon."
Wade could soon find herself awash in a similar atmosphere as she once again combines the two distinct disciplines that defined her early track career, showcasing her trademark endurance and her affinity for hurdles, a ticket to London waiting at the finish line for the top three finishers.
It happens each year.
Somewhere between the final out of the College World Series and the last fireworks on the 4th of July, the countdown clock on the wall suddenly hits fast forward. The first football game that once seemed off in the distance is now close enough to make deadlines pressing and summer seem far shorter than it once appeared to be.
Did I say close? When I pushed the submit button to publish this blog, the realization that the opening kickoff of the 2012 season against UCLA is now less than 70 days away took firm hold.
The evidence is easy to spot.
July is less about vacations and recharging of batteries these days, and more about the advance work for the start of the season. On campus, the players are in summer classes and participating in voluntary summer workouts designed to have them report for the start of training camp on August 3 in optimum shape. Coaches will maximize the opportunity for family time, while also working furiously on lining up the bulk of the 2013 recruiting class.
Head coach David Bailiff and members of the athletic department staff will hit the road in the middle of the month to meet with Rice fans in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. One week later, Bailiff and Luke Willson will participate in Conference USA's annual Media Day in Dallas. The whirlwind of public events then concludes with a gathering at St. Arnold Brewery on August 1 that will feature all of the Rice head coaches.
Work on the grass practice field has been completed and new sod has been laid in time to allow for it to settle in before the Owls unleash their new adidas cleats upon it in August.
At the same time, Rice's marketing team continues to develop a series of new features that are designed to vastly upgrade the pregame atmosphere at home games, from the season opener with UCLA and throughout the 2012 season.
An overall theme for athletics marketing efforts is in the final development stage and will be announced in the near future. This branding of the upcoming season will be supported by all our various media avenues and printed materials.
As previously announced, The Roost is moving from its cramped quarters on the north end zone concourse to the east upper deck at Rice Stadium. This location allows fans who want to enjoy a beer with their football to do so in much more comfortable surroundings and with the ability to watch the game taking advantage of Rice Stadium's legendary sightlines, since all seating is General Admission.
But the changes and expanded options will be obvious to fans long before they enter the stadium on August 30.
Rice and Bud Light are teaming up to revamp the pregame Tailgate Owley offerings at Rice Stadium to create a gathering point for all fans well before kickoff, similar to the pregame activities that have become such a popular feature of the Texas Bowl.
Local bands will perform on a performance stage while the Beirgarten will offer Budweiser products as well as food from Holmes Smokehouse. Rice sponsors will also be on hand with a variety of activities and special offerings for specific games.
At the same time, the Owls will debut a new "College Row" feature in which each of Rice's residential colleges will be assigned a tent of their own to decorate and conduct their own tailgate for both current members as well as college alumni.
Judging to determine the top college tailgate will be conducted during the season with special prizes announced during the SMU game at the end of the season.
Fans can purchase a Party Pass for a specific game, which provides a General Admission ticket to the football game along with unlimited food and drink in the VIP area of Tailgate Owley for just $25. Season ticket holders can purchase Party Passes for just $15 per game.
Party Passes for all Rice home football games will go on sale on July 15 as part of the beginning of single-game sales to all Rice football games.
While additional details and refinements are underway on both Tailgate Owley and The Roost, the Owls have also launched a new sales initiative with an eye on increasing the successful group sales efforts in the past.
One part of this expanded initiative includes the use of an outside professional sales force to reach out to a greater number of prospective clients, growing the total number of groups who attend Rice events and building a new generation of Rice fans.
The other is to continue to expand the inventory and the impact of the Rice 100 program. This effort in which local companies and individuals purchase season tickets that are donated back to the school to be used to host youth groups and other organizations has become a popular feature for the donors, who can take advantage of the tax incentives of the donation, as well as for the beneficiaries who have the opportunity to visit the Rice campus and Rice Stadium for the first time.
Spearheaded by longtime supporters Leonard Tallerine and John Huff, the Rice 100 program will be expanded to include interaction between local youth and Rice student-athletes, t-shirts and concession vouchers so area youngster can experience Rice as opposed to merely attending a game.
This season, the Owls will introduce a revamped and expanded "School Days" initiative that will reward area students for scholastic achievement and perfect attendance when the Owls host Southern Miss on October 27. The Rice marketing department is currently developing a special kit for each school to help promote the program to maximize the impact. Owls fans who would like to see their local school included in the program should submit the information to email@example.com
Rice Athletics will team with Cheer America to help make the season finale with SMU on November 17 a special day for young cheerleaders and school band members. Cheer America will promote and choreograph a special routine for participating squads and bands during a special halftime performance. On that same date, the Owls will once again host the students from Houston KIPP Academy. These outstanding performers in the classroom have been an enthusiastic addition to home games the last several years, and the season finale with SMU will be no exception.
With a 2012 home schedule that includes a special Thursday night kickoff that helps usher in the college football season around the country, as well as the celebration of the Rice Centennial on October 13 and all of the special initiative outlined above, Rice fans will have an exciting lineup of options to enjoy this fall, as well as to invite friends and neighbors to join them at Rice Stadium.
If you are considering the purchase of season tickets this year, please remember that in addition to the discounted seats for the Bayou Bucket at Reliant Stadium which we discussed in a previous blog, our season ticket holders will also receive a DVD of the finished version of the 100 Years of Rice Football documentary.
Rough cuts of the five chapters were shown after home games last fall, and the 90-minute finished piece represents an overview of a memorable century of history for a sport that made its debut only months after the first classes were held at Rice Institute. The one-year project involved many people on campus and a number of former Owls whose shared memories and recollections essential to the project. We hope you find it as yet another additional value to your purchase of season tickets.
Enjoy your summer, have a Happy 4th of July, and we will see you in Tailgate Owley on August 30.
UPDATE - June 18, 2012
Becky Wade set a school record in the 3000m steeplechase Saturday night (June 16) at the USATF Southwest meet held at Rice's Holloway Field/Ley Track.
Wade ran a winning time of 9:48.08 to surpass Lennie Waite's 2009 school-record time of 10:00.30. She will be one of 24 athletes running the steeplechase prelim on June 24 at the US Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. The steeplechase final June 29 will feature 14 runners vying for three spots on the U.S. Olympic Team.
The 2012 London Olympics are fast approaching and there are several former Rice Owls that aspire to compete in the Games.
Becky Wade, a recent Rice graduate, has already qualified in the 10,000m for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. The Dallas native will run the 3000m steeplechase Saturday (June 16) at the USATF Southwest Region Open Championship on the Rice campus at Holloway Field/Ley Track.
Wade needs to make the A Standard time of 9:55.00 to qualify or post one of the top-24 times in the U.S. She runs Saturday night at 9 p.m.
"Becky hopes to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the steeple," stated Rice head coach Jim Bevan. "If she does qualify in the steeplechase, she will not run the 10,000."
Also competing on Saturday at the South Main campus is ex-Owl and 2008 U.S. Olympian Funmi Jimoh. Jimoh will be long jumping at 4 p.m. and will be using this competition in preparation for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Her best mark thus far for 2012 is 6.82m/22-4.5 accomplished at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and that ranks 14th in the world according to the IAAF.org. Jimoh advanced to the finals placed 12th in the long jump at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Lennie Waite, who, along with Jimoh, serves as a volunteer assistant coach at Rice, runs the 3000m steeplechase in Birmingham, England, on June 24 in hopes of making the UK Olympic squad. Waite's fast-time for 2012 is 9:48.35 and that currently ranks third among Great Britains on the IAAF world list.
Another former Owl long jumper, Alice Falaiye, will compete at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Calgary, Alberta (June 27). She captured long jump gold at the 2003 Pan American Games and the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Ex-Rice sprinter Shakera Reece will represent her native country of Barbados in the 100m sprint. Reece won bronze in the 100m at the 2011 Pan American Games.
On the men's side, pole vaulter Jason Colwick and decathlete Ryan Harlan will compete in their respective sports at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Colwick won the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor titles while at Rice. Last summer, Harlan represented the U.S. at the IAAF World Championship in Daegu, South Korea. He won the 2004 NCAA decathlon with a school-record 8,171 points.
One notable athlete competing at Rice on Saturday is high jumper Amy Acuff, who has participated in the last four Olympics. Acuff attended Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, before winning five NCAA high jump titles at UCLA.
There could be no bigger stage to begin a professional playing career than at one of golf's major championships.
For former Rice golfer Michael Whitehead that was the setting when he made his professional debut at last year's U.S. Open played at Congressional Country Club.
With the 2012 U.S. Open beginning this week in
Not only did he begin his professional career a year ago this week but since last year's Open Whitehead would also marry former Rice soccer player Jordan Holloway, serve as a volunteer assistant coach for the Owls and find early success at professional events.
Looking back on the start of his career, Whitehead says that first shot as a professional golfer on No. 10 at Congressional is a lasting memory.
"The first tee shot is still vivid," he said. "I had just finished school and the NCAAs. It was quite a stage to start on. The Par 3, No. 10 has a wall of water short and bunkers long. It was terrifying."
Whitehead would stick his first shot on the green, proving he could handle the pressure.
Last year he went on to play some National Golf Association Tour events (formerly the Hooters Tour), would finish third at the Texas Open and went through the PGA's Q School.
"It has been a complete life change," Whitehead said. "No longer am I in school. Golf is my job. It's totally different."
This year Whitehead has played a few events on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, winning twice - one during the tour's winter season and this spring he shot three rounds in the 60s to win the Rayburn Country Open by two strokes.
"I am playing well and starting to contend for titles," he said. "Now it is not 'play well and finish tenth, it's okay I can win.' It is good to see improvement and I'm just working really hard to get better."
In addition to the Adams Golf Pro Tour, Whitehead has done some Monday qualifiers for PGA and Nationwide events. Ahead on the schedule are some possible NGA events as well as a return to the Texas Open before setting sights on Q School.
"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," Whitehead said as he looks ahead to his second stab at the PGA's qualifying school. "Last year everything was new. I have played tournaments in high school and college but this is totally different. It is just a different atmosphere - money on the line, the pressure is a lot more intense and the depth of the field is a lot deeper. It's really good to have a year of tournaments under my belt."
New Owls' assistant women's basketball coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin is busy with her summer job as a power forward for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx.
The Lynx have started the 2012 season with an impressive 8-0 start after trouncing the Seattle Storm 79-55 on Wednesday. In the contest, McWilliams-Franklin scored a game-high 17 points by making all eight field goal attempts and a free throw in just under 20 minutes of action.
McWilliams-Franklin was happy with the win, but not totally satisfied in how she played.
"You know, hey, I scored, I didn't miss. It's great. But I'm more upset about the turnovers and so I have to work on that. Passes to certain players, I've got to work on that and know who I'm passing to and work on my own game and deficiencies that [I've] had this year."
The Lynx moved within one victory of tying the WNBA record set by Los Angeles in 2001 of victories to start the season. The Sparks also won their first nine games in 2003.
Minnesota's next game is on Saturday, June 9 when it plays at Tulsa (0-6). Three of Minnesota's eight victories have been on the road and it leads Los Angeles (5-1) in the Western Conference standings.
The campus at Rice is officially in camp season, with hundreds of youths on site to participate in the various sports camps. For more information on upcoming camps, please check the full list on RiceOwls.com
Once upon a time, the Houston Colt .45's wore matching suits with cowboy hats when they traveled in their first season. Lance Berkman and the St. Louis Cardinals went for a more individual form of expression on their recent trip to the west coast.
As the team arrived at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex Thursday morning, this critter made an appearance. Good omen??