By Cody Fleming, UCSB Associate Head Coach
To say 2013 was a breakout year for Jennifer Carey would be an understatement. She leaves UCSB as the most accomplished female sprinter in school history and holds the 200m, 400m, 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m school records. She was the 2013 Big West Champion in the 400m and took runner up in the women's 200m after running an electric 23.69.
School records, blazing sprint times and a trip to the NCAA Championships caught the attention of the High Performance Director of Athletics Ireland, Kevin Ankrom. Carey was on the map after her eye opening 52.29 Big West Conference win in the 400m at Cal State Northridge back in early May. That time established the IAAF World Championships "B" standard and was all Ankrom needed to see to put Jennifer on a plane headed to Ireland barely a week after her spring quarter ended.
She won her first Irish National title in the 400m in Dublin on July 17th which solidified her spot as one of 11 Irish athletes competing in Moscow at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships starting this weekend. Her winning time of 52.98 was the third time Jennifer dipped under the 53 second mark for the season.
This will be Jennifer's first appearance at the World Track and Field Championships but a little known fact is that she has competed on the world stage before as an Irish dancer.
The women's 400m heats will be ran on August 10th, the opening day of the Championships. The semi's will be a day later on the 11th and the Championship final will be August 12th. In between a pre-meet session and lunch, I had a chance to catch up with Jennifer and UCSB Sprints Coach Travis Anderson about the wild ride this year has been, Irish dancing and catching Usain Bolt's eye:
You are in Moscow about to run the 400m in the World Championships. What has this experience been like?
Jennifer Carey: I guess I would say that right now it feels surreal because if someone had asked me a year ago if I'd be here; it wasn't even a possibility. It's still processing but it's really exciting.
Travis, when you started coaching Jen did you ever think you'd be writing workouts via Skype as she gets ready to run in the World Championships?
Travis Anderson: Not at all. It just reinforces why I don't bet on anything in life, because if I was a betting man I think I would've lost a lot of money when it comes to Jen. That pretty much sums it up.
Travis is very detailed with his workout plans throughout the year. How have you two been able to communicate while you've been running in Europe?
JC: Usually he'll email me the workouts and give me things to substitute if I don't have the resources here. We've also Skyped a lot so I can let him know how I'm feeling and he can change things accordingly. We also talk about races.
TA: It was real tough at first just not being able to see my athlete. It was a new experience. Just trying to communicate via words on a screen is tough when you need to hear, see, and feel the tone and the body language of athletes. You can learn a lot from that besides just talking with them. Thankfully our technology has advanced that Skype has really helped.
What is your race plan in Moscow?
JC: I looked at my heat and I'm the slowest person in it so I'm just going to get out as fast as I ever have and let them pull me along, hopefully to a PR.
Your PR (personal record) heading into this season in the 400m was 57.06. You did have a then break through 55.0 split at Big West a year ago in the 4 x 4 but was there a moment this year where you thought or knew you were a different athlete?
JC: After the Cal Nevada Championships. In the final of that 400m race I PR'd by a second and a half. It was special in that earlier in the season in one of my goal meetings with Travis I had written down 54.5 and in that race I ran 54.47 and that was when I kind of realized that I needed to reevaluate what I needed to expect from myself.
Travis was there a moment this year where you saw Jen do something and you thought to yourself, this young lady is special?
TA: I would have to say at our Gaucho Round Up. I had beaten them up pretty good the previous three weeks and everyone was tired. I knew there was something there, but that 55 she ran by herself while we were still training through meets made me realize that there was something really special going on.
Those who know you know that you are big into Irish dancing and that it is something that has brought your family together. Can you tell us what you have learned from dancing and how it has helped shape who you are?
JC: I guess I learned the basic principle of getting out of something as much as you put into it. I used to spend hours practicing in my hard shoes, outside of practice with my mom on a piece of hardwood. Then I started to really succeed at that, making it to the World Championships. I think that even though it's not the same type of competition as when you're racing the person next to you, I learned the importance of being on your game at the right time.
Have you had a chance to dance since you've been in Ireland?
JC: No I haven't actually. Not too many people have done it competitively out here! I think they thought I was kind of weird when I brought it up. They all have to do it for a little while in school but not that many people go on to take it to the same competitive level as the world championships. I'd say it's more popular than it is in the states but not as popular here as say Rugby.
What went through your mind when you first received your Irish National Team uniform?
JC: I was kind of like, this is it. My lifelong dream. I don't know what else I could do now. Mission accomplished. Kind of like when I reached my goals so early in the season it makes me want to dream bigger and make new goals.
You've had some wild races this year en route to shredding up your PR's in the 200m and the 400m. Is there any one particular race that stands out?
JC: I would have to say my conference race which was my fastest one. I just remember not being that nervous before it and being more relaxed and excited than I ever could remember being. Obviously the whole energy of having all of my teammates there is something that I don't know if I'll ever get to experience again. That whole day stands out a lot to me.
Travis- Same Question:
TA: I would have to say the same race actually. I saw her eyes coming off the curve in to the homestretch and she looked as if she were on a different planet and didn't really even know she was running a 400. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect for a time but was just hoping for a win. Then I looked at the clock and I didn't really believe it at first. I thought maybe they hit the time too early just to display it and when it turned out to be a legit time I couldn't believe it. I had to sit down on the grass hill at Northridge and just take it in, I couldn't stand any more.
Since you've been over in Moscow have you seen any track and field celebrities?
JC: I am staying at the same hotel as Usain Bolt and we practically ate dinner together yesterday. Not really but we were facing each other, one table apart just ten feet away and we definitely made eye contact for half a second. Getting my credentials today I saw Jordan Hasay and Mary Cain.
Your father grew up in Ireland and he is a huge supporter of you and your athletics. What does it mean to him to see you running in the World Championships wearing an Irish uniform?
JC: I think it means a lot to him because obviously it's his home country and my mom is Irish as well so once I started running it was kind of decided for me that if I was going to the Olympics or anything it was going to be in an Irish uniform. To my grandparents it means an awful lot that I chose to represent their country and that I'm at the level I'm able to compete at.
In recent years we've have Ryan Martin (4th in 2012 Olympic Trials 800m), Barbara Nwaba (2012 NCAA Heptathlon runner-up and 5th in the Olympic Trials) and now Jennifer Carey come through our program. From your perspective how does this happen here at UCSB?
JC: I know for me being able to see Ryan and Barbara training on the same track as me and being on a relay with Barbara and then watching them both compete at USA's kind of just gives you that sense of if they can do it, why can't I? They're both very inspirational to me. I guess we just have the attitude of not needing all the fancy facilities and what not and being the underdog. We talk about the "Gaucho Spirit" that pushes us to be fast anyways.
TA: I think I have to go off Jen's comments. Maybe some of the people we bring in are more underdog status and have more drive because of it, more of a chip on their shoulder. I think it's what the school attracts, intelligent young men and women. Our job is getting everyone together getting them to believe in the same purpose. They really don't understand how good they can be and that's a good thing because they just keep working hard that keeps paying off and then it's the snowball effect. They feed off each other's success. Good coaching across the board too. (laughs)
Jen, is there something in particular while you were training here in Santa Barbara you wish you had with you out in Europe?
JC: Yea, Travis! (more laughs) I've come to really appreciate how nice it is being in Santa Barbara being able to just walk to the track. With the training room and the weight room everything you need is right there and also having a team to train with make a big difference. I wish I could've brought all of them with me!
Jen you lived with Grace Esslinger, Amanda Rodriguez and Veronica Gines. I believe that's a total of 7 school records from your house this season. All of those ladies had tremendous senior years. What are some of the changes you made on and off the track this year and what was the secret to the success you all had?
JC: I know in our house we would always be talking about track and it was a positive environment to live in. We'd always be reminding each other of our goals and sometimes I would just turn to Amanda and be like, "hey, we're really fast now!." So the constant positivity and encouraging of each other was definitely going on in our house. It was the same out at practice. This was my second year trying not to eat gluten and being in a house where everyone is on the same page is easy because we all have to get to bed early to make early practices or meets. Sometimes we make dinners for each other and they're always healthy.
Travis, what did you see as a key component to our athlete's success off the track this year?
TA: Really just getting them to believe that they were better than they were. They had more potential than they thought they did. I think that was the biggest one. The upperclassmen especially held on to the things the coaches would say. They had seen Gauchos come before them be successful, so having that maturity level of going into your last year, hitting it hard, and see what they can do to end their year on a high note.
What are some of the goals for next year? Have you even thought that far ahead?
JC: I know I'm coming back in the fall. I'm just going to train some more. I know the indoor world championships are next so I'd like to get in shape enough for them. I guess that's the next thing to look at.
TA: My goals for Jen are just to get her recovered from this season. It's been one of the longest seasons she'll probably ever have in her career and then see if we can get back to being focused. There was a huge learning curve this year and many experiences that will help in the future and they will be invaluable. We want to hit the ground running when we do start training again. The expectations are higher and she's older and more experienced so we'll just see where it goes.
You came to our program as a walk-on and your PR heading into this season in the 400m was 57.06. Now you leave with four school records. What message does that send to every woman or man who comes through our program walk-on or not that this can happen?
JC: I hope that it continues to reveal the Gaucho spirit the way Barbara Nwaba did for me. I also hope that it helps people realize that just because you aren't on scholarship money or you weren't a superstar in high school doesn't mean that you can't get four school records. I hope that it makes people on the team realize that your destiny isn't determined by any times you ran before and that you can totally control the outcome of your future. Work really hard and have fun with it because I think that went hand in hand with my success.