Walsh overcomes barriers to race in NCAA steeplechase

Walsh overcomes barriers to race in NCAA steeplechase


            KEENE, N.H. 5/25/11 – Andrea Walsh has never had a track to call her own. During her four years at Bolton (Conn.) High School, Walsh had to train 20 minutes down the road at a neighboring facility in Coventry. Things didn’t get any better in college, where she has spent the past three seasons shuttling from the Keene State campus to the track at Monadnock Regional High School in nearby Swanzey. 

            Walsh, however, has never let obstacles slow her down. Her perseverance coupled with her running talent and an unyielding desire to succeed has earned the junior from Bolton a spot in Thursday’s 3,000-meter steeplechase race at the NCAA Division III championships. Walsh, who is seeded 11th in the field of 22 runners, has some work to do if she wants to finish in the top-eight and earn All-American honors. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she does it,” said Keene State Coach Peter Thomas. “Andrea loves a challenge. She’s not only competitive, but a tough, focused runner.”

            Walsh, who began running in middle school, always favored the freedom of the cross country trails. “I just love trail running,” she said. “Some people might not like it because of the solitude, but I think it’s the ultimate place to run.”

            Walsh demonstrated her penchant for the paths by earning All-State honors as a junior at Bolton High. Track was a different story. Bolton didn’t have an indoor team and when it came to outdoors, the Bulldogs didn’t have much of a bite either. Not only was there no track, but not enough runners for a relay. Walsh, along with the two other athletes on the tiny team, put their names in a hat in hopes of winning the lottery and being one of the four (two boys, two girls) picked to use the track in Coventry.

            Undeterred, Walsh took full advantage of her time on the track, learning the art of hurdling from Coventry assistant coach Bob Kortmann. A jack-of-all-trades, Walsh did the 100-meter hurdles, triple and high jumps, and ran the 3,200. She was a two-time champion in the high jump at the Journal Inquirer Invitational.

            Walsh was very familiar with Keene. Her family had been coming up to the area for years, vacationing at Spofford Lake. The fact that the school had no track had no bearing on her decision to come to Keene State. “I wouldn’t know what to do if I had a track,” said Walsh with a smile. “They had a good running program and my major (nutrition), so it all fit together.”

            Immersed in the beauty of the many trails surrounding the campus and adapting to the higher-mileage training regimen, Walsh became an integral member of a Keene State team that has won three consecutive Little East Conference cross country championships. She placed a strong second at this year’s meet. At her best on hilly terrain, Walsh finished 12th at the New England regional race, earning an at-large berth to the NCAA championships. 

            Originally racing in the 800 and mile to improve her leg speed, Walsh moved to the steeplechase last spring. Thomas called Walsh the ideal candidate for the event.  “Andrea already knew how to hurdle, and the triple jump developed her strength in both legs,” he said.

            Presented with another challenge in her running career, Walsh became well versed in negotiating the many hurdles, not to mention the water obstacles. “I love it,” she said. “You’re thinking about going over the barriers instead of how many laps you have to go.”

            Training for this event is not simple. Walsh practices hurdling at Monadnock High and works on her water obstacle technique at Keene State’s turf field. Thomas places a makeshift wooden barrier and sets up two chairs where the water obstacle would end. “You have to get on the barrier and leap toward the chairs,” said Walsh. “It’s funny, but it works.”

            During a race, Walsh says she’s constantly given instructions by a very vocal coach Thomas. “Pete is always preaching to pick up speed and attack each hurdle,” said Walsh. “Every time I got close to a hurdle in my last race, I could hear Pete shouting 'attack' from across the track. You can hear Pete from anywhere on the track.”  

           With a trip to the NCAA championships on the line, Walsh posted a personal best time of 10:44.05 in the steeplechase at the recent New England Open meet at Southern Conn. State, securing her spot in the nationals. “There were a couple of Division III runners in the race. If they passed me, they would take my spot on the list,” said Walsh. “I made sure I stayed up front so no one would pass me.”

         Walsh feels she has a faster race in her, but isn’t getting her All-America hopes too high. “I want to be an All-America so bad, but I’m not really expecting it this year,” said Walsh. “I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

        It’s just another obstacle for Walsh to overcome.