Dawn Harper-Nelson, a two-time Olympic medalist in the 100m hurdles, talks about coming back from injury and getting over her fear of the hurdles. This is from an interview FloTrack conducted a few years ago.
Learning To Not Fear The Hurdles
Most hurdlers at some point have a fear of the hurdles. How do you manage that? What would your recommendations be to somebody who's afraid of the hurdles but wants to be good?
"Well, I remember starting out I didn't necessarily have a fear of the hurdles. I will say I was very blessed early in my career. I didn't hit hurdles; I had very good technique I cleared them very well. My fear came after I had knee surgery in 2008, when the last time that I hurdled was when I hurt myself. So then I had to overcome and say to myself, 'Can you come and do this again and go over this hurdle? What if you hit a hurdle? What if you feel something?' I remember I tried to go over a hurdle and I just stopped and I kept stopping and Johana Hays told me to lower the hurdles, focus, remember you've done this before. It's muscle memory so you're going to go back into it."
Recovering After Hitting A Hurdle
"If you hit a hurdle, it's not the end of the world and I think that's something I had to remember. If it's early in the race you can still recover and still have nine hurdles to make a move and still run a really good race. If you hit a hurdle late in the race, you still have time to reconstruct eight or nine hurdles (and) maybe run a really good time. If you've hit a hurdle, if you were afraid at some point, you can go back and look at all the positives that you've done and say, 'You know what I did this right, and this right, and this right.' You have to stay positive with yourself and that's what I had to do to overcome my fear of hurdles. Sometimes I go to a race and [the hurdles] look higher than they've ever looked before. I've leaned over to see if the hurdles were at the right mark and the right height before; there's just sometimes it looks like that. You know when the race goes off or when you're at track practice and it's time to run and the gun goes off, you're going to do what you are supposed to do because you've done it before."
Hitting A Hurdle Scenario
Dawn, you've just hit hurdle two and it was the Olympic final, how do you manage that?
"Well, mentally you cannot believe you just did that, let's start there. Point blank the first thing you need to do is think of what you need to do to get back going that way. Funny thing is, I actually kind of clipped a hurdle in the finals, luckily it was a good clipping because when I hit it, it was like I perfectly scrapped pretty much this whole . . . trail leg across the top of the hurdle. Soon as I felt that I remember saying I have to get my knees up over the top. You have to clear, because that means I'm coming up on the hurdles very fast now, and If I don't get my led knee up that means I'm going to kick the hurdle. So a lot of times if you hit the hurdle you find yourself off balance, you have to really try and master getting yourself back on for that next one because then the next one can go smoothly again. If you're still trying to fight, fight, fight you know [it's not good]. I also try to think about times at track practice where I've hit a hurdle and I was able to reconstruct, I can do it here."
Go into "reconstruct"....why is that the word you use?
"Because . . . before you hit a hurdle you are perfectly in your mind going this way [down the track] and everything is going perfect and now everything has gone haywire and you reconstruct. You have to get yourself back together, put your back in line with the lines and the hurdles. Reconstructing is what it's all about. Get out of wack you bring it right back."