WITH A COLLEGIATE RECORD 300 of 35.80 to open her junior indoor season in December, Kentucky’s Abby Steiner served notice that she is back.
Last year’s NCAA Indoor 200 champ at 22.38, equaling the CR in that event, she looked to be on course to factor not only in the NCAA but also in the Olympic Trials. Achilles tendinitis, however, laid waste to virtually all of her outdoor season.
“It was pretty tough,” she admits. “We had been trying to get healthy for a while, but unfortunately just ended up having to shut it down and take the summer to get some needed rest and rehab. So it was pretty difficult, but you just have to keep in mind that being sad doesn’t really change anything.
“I allowed myself a couple of days to be sad about it, but in my experience with injuries, that’s all the time you get and then you just have to keep pushing forward and addressing what needs to be done and setting new goals for yourself.”
Steiner was even able to take in the OT without too much angst: “I got to watch all of it and I was really happy for all the NCAA runners who did amazing things. I definitely wish I could have gotten a chance to be out there competing with them, but I know everything happens for a reason, so I wasn’t too upset about it.”
She spent months working with her physical therapists to heal her left Achilles. Says Steiner — who is training to be a PT herself — “You just have to manage your volume and progression. As we were going through the rehab process, I got a good idea of where I was every week.
“We would test it out a little bit and see how it was the next day. If it hurt, we knew we needed to scale it back. It was a day-by-day, week-by-week thing.”
The Ohio native is no stranger to rehabbing a major injury. She tore her ACL prior to her junior year at Dublin’s Coffman High, but still managed to win 16 State titles and clock prep bests of 11.38 and 22.73. That in addition to her heroics on the soccer field, where she also earned All-America honors.
Once settled in Lexington, she gave futbol a whirl as a frosh before turning her attentions to sprinting full-time. “I played it for like 15 years; it was pretty much all I did growing up, but I kind of knew in the first couple weeks with Kentucky track, that was where my heart and passion was. I genuinely looked forward to going to track practice every single day and constantly wanted to learn more about the sport.
“I just had a fire for track & field that I didn’t have for soccer. I knew I wanted to try them both in college. I would’ve regretted if I hadn’t played soccer, but when it came down to it, I really knew that track was what I was meant to be doing.”
Part of the reason our sport won her heart was her working relationship with Wildcat sprint assistant Tim Hall, who has mentored more than his share of big-name athletes. “He’s the most patient coach ever,” she says. “He’s always there to answer questions and I ask a ton of questions about what we’re doing. My group has a ton of fun and we’re working hard.”
Over the fall, Steiner had to be careful with her Achilles, to make sure that she didn’t overtax it as her strength started coming back: “We’re still being mindful of that volume and the progression as we’re moving through the season.”
She has been able to return to a staple of her technical training, working on improving her start and drive phase with Hall. “It’s been something that we work on, especially coming out of the blocks. A lot of the focus has been getting comfortable with that drive phase. Once I get up and running to my top-end speed, that’s when I’m more comfortable.”
By early December, Hall and Steiner figured she was ready to race her first-ever 300. “I have been itching to run a 300 pretty much my whole collegiate career,” she reveals. “It just never really worked with the COVID stuff, and then the injury. I was really excited to do it. Me and my coach had talked about me running in the 35s. I don’t know that 35.80 was necessarily the goal, but definitely in the 35s.
“We just went down the road to Louisville and got to run at their brand-new facility. My parents were able to be there, which was really important to me to be able to share that with them.”
The 35.80 sliced 0.03 from the 40-year-old Collegiate Record set at altitude by Nebraska’s Merlene Ottey in ’81. It also put Steiner, at age 22, No. 3 among Americans all-time.
She followed up with an oversized 22.58 for 200 on her home track January 14. The next week she traveled to Lubbock, where she blistered a pair of 60 PRs (7.19 and 7.17) and ran 51.40 for the second leg on the winning Wildcat 4×4.
Will we ever see Steiner in an open 400? It’s a distance she hasn’t run without a baton since her frosh year in high school, when she clocked 57.21 in her sole effort. She says it’s not even being discussed yet: “I don’t know. My coach really doesn’t tell me what I’m running until the week of, so that’s going to be up to him to decide. Our main focus, though, is the 200 for this indoor season. That and helping out with the 4×4. I’m excited to see what our 4×4 does as the season moves along.”
A senior academically, Steiner says her focus looking ahead is “on enjoying these last couple years of college. Our mantra really is just to make it to outdoor season right now. I didn’t run outdoor season sophomore year because of COVID and junior year because of injury.
“We’re focusing on all that I need to do to manage this injury and make it to outdoor season and see where it goes from there. The motto is just focus on the details, take it one week at a time.”