W45 star Erika Pierce is shining success at hurdling and life. Period.

Erika, shown in 2016, has her masters mojo after setting records and returning to hurdling.

Erika Pietrzak missed the 400 hurdle heats at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Trials (due to late notification) but was allowed to run in the semifinals on appeal. She was sixth in 59.56. Then she didn’t run again for 17 years. But now she’s back big time, and gets deserved attention in an ESPN profile written by my friend (and former Union-Tribune sports editor boss of 1999-2003) Doug Williams. Now known as Erika Pierce, this Virginia mom of two has captured my heart. She writes with courage, clarity and honesty in her old blog and recent essays. She wrote a few years ago: “I have a confession to make. I failed. Back in April, I made a goal. And I told lots of people about this goal. And I worked VERY hard to make my goal a reality. My goal? To break the American Record in the 400 hurdles in the W40 age group. I failed. I didn’t run 63.9. I ran 65.2.”

She added: “Believe me when I say that each time someone congratulates me, I kind of feel like a fraud. Like I am taking compliments for stuff that I really didn’t care too much about. It’s sort of like if you had a goal of landing a particular dream job, not getting it, and then all of your friends congratulate you on your amazing interviewing skills and your choice of interview outfits.”

Erika is far from a fraud — and certainly not a failure.

Doug writes: “Pierce, 46, has excelled. She’s won 12 national age-group championships in a variety of events — the heptathlon and pentathlon, 60-meter hurdles, 400 hurdles, high jump and javelin — and set U.S. masters records in the indoor heptathlon (women’s age 40 division) and indoor and outdoor heptathlon (W45).”

Erika also wrote:

These years (after 1996) were spent searching for something else to choose me – for another activity or passion to replace the void of competition. Like an addict in recovery, I replaced track first with things like wedding planning, Ph.D getting, and baby-having, all noble and greatly fulfilling endeavors.

My husband, who I met one month after the Trials, did not know me as a runner. We made up our own athletic memories that included co-rec soccer and softball, the occasional pick-up basketball game with friends, and sometimes even running a local 5k. My intentions in these athletic pursuits were purely recreational and unfortunately, far from soul-satisfying.

Now that she’s back on track, I look forward to watching Erika progress. She celebrated a birthday this week (being called Flash by one friend), and has a bright future.

Welcome home, superstar.

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March 29, 2018