Though her health and conditioning were in peak form by the time Val Constien arrived at the NCAA track and field championships a year ago, it wasn’t an easy road getting there.
Constien struggled during the previous cross country season in the fall of 2017, and she entered the 2018 outdoor track and field season still attempting to shake a few nagging injuries. In the end the trials were worth it, as Constien continued the decorated steeplechase tradition within the Colorado track and field program by finishing fifth at nationals.
It was a swift ascension for the native of Edwards. Constien placed a distant 34th in the steeplechase at the NCAA West Preliminaries as a freshman and, with a redshirt season included, three years later she was among the best in the nation. Going into her final year Constien figured a solid cross country season, which she enjoyed last fall, combined with better health in general would leave her in the mix for a national championship in 2019.
Then, on March 12, Constien was struck by a car while riding her bike. It proved to be a relatively short setback, yet the scare provided a stark reminder to Constien to treasure the few remaining opportunities in her collegiate racing career.
The accident caused a concussion Constien soon recovered from, and she figures to be one of the Buffaloes’ highlights at the NCAA championships next week in Austin, Texas.
“Some lady didn’t see me and rammed right into me,” Constien said. “That was the biggest thing I had to deal with this year. It wasn’t like I wasn’t fit. It wasn’t like I got injured. I just got hit by a car. Recovering from that stressed me out but luckily I didn’t lose too much fitness. I think the fitness I gained from being able to train all summer long, and all fall, and then all winter…I had a huge, amazing block of training.
“This year, I think my goal should be to be fifth or better. I’m ready to run fast. I really am.”
Since the women’s steeplechase was added to the NCAA championships in 2001, the Buffs have had at least one entrant every year. Some of those names are among the biggest in the CU program’s rich history, including 2012 Olympian Shalaya Kipp, 2016 Olympic steeplechase bronze medalist Emma Coburn, and another Olympic medalist, Jenny Simpson, who gets to impart wisdom to Constien in her role as CU’s volunteer assistant coach. By qualifying for nationals for the third time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Constien joins an exclusive CU club that includes Natalie Florence and the three aforementioned Olympians.
Last week at the NCAA West Prelims, Constien qualified for nationals with a personal-best time of 9 minutes, 44.51 seconds, the fourth-best mark in CU history. While the NCAA finals begin Wednesday, Constien takes off in the semifinal heat on Thursday night. If all goes according to plan she will compete for a national championship in her final race in black and gold on June 8.
“It’s really truly an honor. Those big names that did it before me, that made it to nationals and won nationals before me, there’s some pretty big shoes to fill,” Constien said. “But Mark (Wetmore) and Heather (Burroughs) don’t really see it as me filling a role. They see it as just doing what I can. The support from them is just incredible.”