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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sports

Senior sprinter running past injuries to bigger goals


Amidst helping the men’s team to four event victories, senior Elijah Hall suffered two injuries that counted him out of major competitions. | Peter Scamardo/The Cougar

All track and field athletes dream of representing their country in international competitions like the Olympics. While the next games are still three years away, for senior sprinter Elijah Hall those dreams might become reality. 

At the USA Track and Field Championships in June, Hall placed third in the 200-meter finals, earning him a trip to the IAAF World Championships in London in August. But after a long season that saw Hall suffer two injuries, both of which kept him from running for an NCAA title, Hall chose to skip the championships in London to improve his health.

“Bigger things (are) down the road,” Hall said. “There was no point for me to go if I’m injured and banged up. The one thing I wanted to do was get my body healthy so I could come and have a great season this year.”

Hall is in the final weeks of preparation for the start of the track season. Being a transfer from Butler Community College, this season is Hall’s final year of eligibility to compete for the Cougars.

He may have bigger goals but the path to those goals starts now — such as by ensuring he is healthy enough to compete come Dec. 9 when the team travels to Texas A&M University to open the season.

Quick start

After Hall, a graduate of Morton Ranch High School in Katy, spent two years at Butler Community College in Kansas, he decided to come home to run for the Cougars. Hall said his friendship with senior sprinter Cameron Burrell and connection with coaches Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell were deciding factors.

Hall, a two-time NJCAA Champion at Butler, joined the team with a bang. In his first meet for the Cougars, he broke the school’s indoor 200-meter record, 20.71 seconds, as he won the race at the Mark Colligan Memorial Invitational in January.

“That was exciting,” he said. “It showed all the hard work that I had put in during the offseason and everything I had learned from Carl and Burrell, and I just put it together in one meet. The record was mine to go, and I’m going to break that, too.”

Hall came in second in the men’s 60-meter that same day, running 6.65 seconds. His time in both events ranked in the NCAA Top 16, the mark to qualify for the championships. But Hall suffered a hamstring injury at the Tyson Invitational on Feb. 21, one month away from the NCAA Indoor Championships.

The injury kept Hall from competing at the conference championships as well as the NCAA contest, forcing him to miss out on medaling or possibly winning two big events.

Comeback trail

At the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April, Hall was placed on the anchor leg of the men’s 4×100 relay team. The team finished in 38.59 seconds, two hundredths of a second behind LSU, the reigning national champions.

But Hall and his teammates were excited. Knowing that was just their first race together, the sky was the limit.

Hall took the reins as the top sprinter on the men’s team. In addition to winning the men’s 100 meter at the historic Penn Relays, one of the oldest track meets in the United States, he was named the Track Athlete of the Meet at the American Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships.

Hall earned the honor after winning the 100 meter, 200 meter, 4×100 meter relay and 4×400 meter relay. His win in the 200 meter was then the fastest time in the country at 19.96 seconds.

“The biggest goal is to help each other win, help each other get better,” Hall said. “That’s why I love this school and this track team so much because we’re one big family. Our goal is to do bigger things.”

Another hurdle

The only thing left to do was run the NCAA West Regional and qualify for the Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon. But disaster struck again as Hall suffered his second hamstring injury of the year while running in the 100-meter preliminary heats.

Once again, Hall missed out on competing against the best runners in the country.

“It’s hard to see somebody who’s worked so hard suffer through something like that,” Burrell said. “It’s not fun to watch. It’s devastating so see someone go down like that, especially when it’s a close friend like Eli.”

But in his absence, the men’s team still made history, winning the 4×100 relay title. Hall said he was so happy on the day he almost fell out of the bleachers celebrating. He said he was not bitter toward his teammates; he was excited they performed on the biggest stage when everyone counted them out.

‘Bigger goals’

Hall had one more race that season: the USA Track and Field Championships. And although he ended up not competing in London, his ability to come back from injury and make the world team showed that all the work he has put in with his coaches was worth it.

Hall is expecting a big year from himself and his teammates. Hall’s energy and spirit is a testament to the track and field team’s desire to win a national title for the first time.

“We’ve got bigger goals this year,” Hall said. “We’re going to make more teams down the line, so it’s OK. It was very sad at the moment, but at the end of the day, I still have another year here at UH, and all my guys are coming back with me.”

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