NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Lipscomb steeplechaser Madi Talbert got a second chance and she doesn’t plan to squander it.
Talbert is headed to Eugene, Oregon Monday for the NCAA National Outdoor Track and Field Championships for the second year in a row. She is scheduled to compete Wednesday. But that isn’t where the second chance comes in.
When the list of qualifiers was announced for the NCAA East Regional she was 51st on the list. Only the top 48 can compete.
For Talbert to qualify at least three runners would have to scratch. Two did, but Talbert was still not on the final list.
The list was released on Thursday before the start of the NCAA East Preliminaries.
“The steeplechase is a very specific event,” Taylor said. “Runners don’t like to scratch in the event because A, they love it. And B, it is a special event.”
Taylor was shocked that Talbert was not going to be able to participate in the event. He gave the bad news to Talbert and she started packing her dorm room to return to her home in Charlotte, North Carolina for the rest of the summer.
But her plans would change drastically in less than 24 hours. Friday night Taylor received a message that Talbert was qualified.
“I get an email from the NCAA saying there had been a medical scratch and asking if Madi wanted it,” Taylor said. “I responded yes. Absolutely. I told them I would make sure Madi was available and mentally ready.”
When the good news came in Talbert’s parents were 20 minutes away from campus, expecting to pick their daughter up. They weren't upset they had made the trip for no reason. Instead of heading home Talbert went to Jacksonville, Florida for the Eastern Region NCAA Preliminaries.
Talbert had to scramble to make her travel arrangements. She left for the prelims on Tuesday and then competed on Friday, May 30.
Talbert entered the event qualified as the 47th runner due to a fourth scratch in the event. She finished fourth in her heat with a time of 10:08.21, 10th overall. It was a personal best and a new school steeplechase record.
“She gets a second chance and she goes out and breaks the school record,” Taylor said.
Talbert admits that she was more than a little disappointed when she first heard the bad news from Taylor.
“I was so heart-broken,” Talbert said. “I had been working all season for it. I was kind of expecting I would get it. When I found out I wasn’t I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do.
“Last year I wasn’t expecting to get in. This year I really wanted to go. But it was a good lesson for me. I think it was a lesson in gratitude. I was more grateful after having the opportunity to get in and run in the prelims.”
Last year, Talbert finished 23rd in the 3,000-meter steeplechase event in the Outdoor Nationals with a time of 10:41.98. She was disappointed with her performance, but Taylor was not unhappy.
“Madi was frustrated last year and probably didn’t understand why I wasn’t,” Taylor said. “I didn’t expect it to go well. I was hoping it would.
“But she was a freshman. She was the first person in Lipscomb history to compete in the nationals. There was so much attention on her. I felt like that wore on her.”
Talbert, a sophomore from elementary education major from Charlotte, North Carolina, will have company this year at the Outdoor Championships. High jumper Gemikal Prude, who also qualified for the NCAA Indoor National Championships this season, is scheduled to compete.
“Last year it was shocking to qualify for the Nationals, but this year I feel like I belong there,” Talbert said. “I am not going in blind. There is so much less pressure. I am going into it with a much different mindset.
“A lot of it is mental. The best thing I can do is to go there and not be intimidated by the big name schools. Last year most people didn’t know who I was or what school I was from. This year at prelims I decided it doesn’t really matter what school a runner is from. I feel like I belong with those runners and that I can challenge them.”
Steeplechase is unique
Talbert, standing 5-foot-2, was not a hurdler in high school. She was known as a distance runner and participated in both cross country and track and field.
One day Taylor invited runners to try out for the steeplechase. He was surprised when Talbert offered to give it a try.
“We had a day that was like steeple day early in the season,” Taylor said. “Madi came out. Not to be mean, but she is kind of short and I was thinking `I don’t know if steeplechase is for her’. Then we watched her jump over hurdles and we were saying, `she can be really good at this’.”
Despite getting Taylor’s attention Talbert did not think she was an instant success in the event. The only reason she stayed with it was because of encouragement from Tessa Hoefle, one of the team captains.
“I remember I did one practice and I didn’t like it,” Talbert said. “I didn’t think I would be good at it.
“I was talking to Tessa the next week and I told her I didn’t think I wanted to do it. She was kind of passive-aggressive and saying, `you should really stay’. I said, `O.K., she is my captain so I am going to do this. I had a great practice. It was really fun. I loved it after that.”
Talbert likes the event because it is different.
“I can’t get distracted,” Talbert said. “I just have to keep focusing on the next hurdle. It is a distance event but you are constantly refocusing on a new hurdle.
“It is a cool challenge. It realty distracts you from the distance aspect of it. It is a niche event. So few people can do it.”
Taylor points out that successful steeplechasers have to have a number of talents.
“They have to have great endurance,” Taylor said. “They have to have great athleticism because they have to control their bodies and they have to do it over and over, even when they are really tired.
“Steeplechasers are special. It is one of the coolest events there is.”
Taylor calls it the NASCAR of track, a comparison that Talbert openly admits she does not like.
“That implies people are waiting to see us crash and fall in the water pits,” Talbert said. “And people gather around the pits. They don’t want people to fall, but they expect people to fall.”
A right place
Talbert didn’t necessarily want to attend a small school. But she made several visits to larger schools and finally decided to make a trip to Lipscomb.
“Lipscomb was the first school to call me, but I kept my options open for a long time,” Talbert said. “After taking all my visits I was really discouraged. I felt like what I was looking for didn’t exist and I was just going to have to settle on a school.
“But then I took the visit and realized that what I was looking for did exist. It was really real. The team here was so different than other teams. It is hard to put into words how awesome both the team and coaches are.”
She was most impressed that the athletes at Lipscomb were dedicated to high goals, but also did not lose sight of the fact that all team members are in it together to be the best they can be.
“That is a huge reason I came because the team members are so good to each other,” Talbert said. “With most teams I visited they were very competitive and very hard-working, but they were self-centered. And there was the other side where the team was pretty close but the team did not really have any goals. I wanted both.”
She is glad on many levels that she made the decision to attend Lipscomb.
“I don’t know if I would be in the steeplechase if I had gone to another school,” Talbert said. “If you had told me in high school I would be doing anything with hurdles I would have told you, `no way’.”
Despite Talbert’s misgivings Taylor and assistant coach Marcus Evans knew from the start that they had “a natural” for the event.
“I don’t know how else to say it,” Taylor said. “She was meant to steeple.”