TRACK: Hickey excited for first international competition

Photo courtesey Illinois State University athletics

Illinois State University sophomore and La Salle-Peru graduate Rachel Hickey reacts after placing second in the 1,500-meter run Sunday at the USA Track and Field Under 20 Outdoor Championships in Miramar, Fla. By placing second, Hickey earned a spot on Team USA for the Pan American U20 Championships, which is July 18-21 in Costa Rica.

Rachel Hickey was required to bring her passport to the USA Track & Field Under 20 Outdoor Championships on Sunday.

It was blank.

But due to her performance Sunday in Miramar, Fla., the La Salle-Peru graduate earned a stamp on her passport.

Hickey ran a 4:30.93 to place second in the 1,500-meter run to earn a spot on Team USA for the Pan American U20 Championships, which are July 18-21 in Costa Rica.

“No, (I haven’t been out of the country) so this is very exciting,” said Hickey, who recently completed her freshman year at Illinois State University. “My coach was laughing at me because this weekend was the first time I’ve seen the ocean since I was like 8 years old. I went from my third time ever flying and seeing the ocean for the first time in 10 years to now going out of the country and wearing USA colors. It’s amazing how quickly your life can change.”

On Tuesday, Hickey said it’s still a surreal feeling to get the opportunity to represent the United States.

“It’s a dream come true,” Hickey said. “It’s something I never really thought was possible, so actually being on Team USA and getting the gear, it still feels like a dream.”

Sunday’s race was just Hickey’s second since competing in the Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Championships at the end of February.

Hickey missed the entire outdoor track season with a stress fracture.

“I did a lot of cross training,” Hickey said. “My swimming roots came in handy the last couple months. I did a lot of swimming in March and April. Heading into May is when I started getting back into running. I only had about six weeks of true workouts before this race. I was staying positive, working out really hard and recovering just as hard.”

Hickey competed in the 1,600 in the Magis Miles event May 31 in Chicago.

“It didn’t go very well. It was my first outdoor race in more than a year,” Hickey said. “It was more of a rust buster to get the feel of racing again.

“Having that under my belt already knowing where I was fitness wise based on my workouts helped me mentally going into this race.”

Sunday’s race went how Hickey hoped.

“The race played out almost exactly how coach and I talked about in the days leading up to the race,” Hickey said. “I just kind of sat in the third or fourth spot. I let other people dictate the pace while kind of keying off them. Then when moves started to be made just covering them and going with. The last 150 meters, it’s just everything you have left. It’s just how bad you want it at that point.”

Hickey made a late surge to place second.

“With 300 to go there was a pack of about five of us,” Hickey said. “Once we all started kicking, it narrowed down to three of us the last 150. Down the homestretch, I caught the girl who was in second.”

Now that she’s earned a spot in the Pan American Championships, Hickey’s training will be altered as she prepares not only for the games but also her sophomore cross country season at ISU.

“It changes a lot actually,” Hickey said. “My plan was after USA juniors was to take three to fie days off then start ramping up my mileage for cross. My volume is already pretty high training for the 1,500. I’ve been doing a lot of strength work and not so much speed. It’s not going to hurt me to go down to the Pan Ams in my cross season, but it will change the dynamic of my training.”

Hickey is looking at the Pan American Championships as a learning experience with the hopes of competing internationally again in the future.

“Mostly, I hope to gain experience and enjoy the experience,” Hickey said. “It’s hard to know what to expect going into that kind of race. All I’ve ever raced is people in this country. I never even thought I was in the top 10 percent of this country. Racing internationally will be a big experience builder at this point. I just want to go down, compete hard and try to go back.

“(Competing internationally again) is obviously going to be the goal. It’s going to be a lot harder after this. For this you have to be under 20. I’m 19 now so next year that’s not an option. Then I move up to USA seniors. That’s where you get your professional runners and it gets a lot harder to make it onto Team USA because USA Track and Field is insanely competitive. But I don’t want to back down from any challenges or obstacles in front of me. I want to keep trying and see what happens.”

Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at sports@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.

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