March 1, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
"Jordan Carlson 53.71 school record @400m She is easily one of the toughest young women ever to wear the W" Washington's coach tweeted last weekend on his @CoachMetcalf account.
Tuesday, Carlson found out about her coach's words for the first time.
"That's pretty cool. That's probably the coolest thing ... yeah, that's definitely the coolest thing ever," an obviously touched Carlson said from the edge of the Dempsey Indoor track.
"The funny thing is, I don't see what I do as that outstanding when you look at (champion teammate) Megan Goethals. She runs like a 5K, then turns around the next day and runs a 3K. That is toughness. That is sheer toughness.
"Watching distance runners, I feel privileged. I don't feel like my life is that difficult."
'It's hard to quantify how tough she is,' said Coach Sheen. 'What she did this past weekend, there are moments in your coaching career that just blow you away.'
Carlson, an overlooked recruit out of Spokane, Wash., five-plus years ago, doesn't run the 400 as much as she bulls through it like a runaway fullback. She isn't the tall, sleek, gliding, gazelle-type that almost all one-lap sprinters are, at least the ones with times as fast as Carlson's.
The 23-year-old quadruple major - we'll get to that in a minute - is the youngest of five children.
"My siblings all got married and had kids really young. They are all these perfect, Barbie-and-Ken clones with three kids. How's my family all blonde and so cute, and I'm like this really buff brunette?" Carlson said, chuckling. "People ask, `Are you related?'"
She succeeded at Shadle Park High School the same way she has at UW: On guts.
"I would say I am the most ... resilient. I am the runner that is going to get kicked in the face the most - and bounce back," she says.
"In high school I was a 100, 200 runner. I always knew I was fast. I just didn't have the right form. I was a raw runner. In high school I was that girl that was last in the blocks and then passed everybody by the end.
"Becoming a 400 runner exposed my biggest attribute. Coach says it all the time: `You are not afraid to suffer.'"
She already owns an NCAA championship trophy for being on Washington's title-winning distance medley relay team in 2012. She has set and broken UW's 400-meter record not three, or five but eight different times indoors and outdoors. She has broken her school indoor mark two times this winter alone, down to the 53.75 that had her coaches in awe of her - again - last weekend.
She's done it despite dragging a pained, previously torn hamstring around the track. She hasn't trained in more than a month because of her latest injury, which has come after hip pain, a back injury and a pelvic condition that has her femur set further back at the top of the bone than at the bottom. That causes painful rotation in her hip area with each step.
"It's hard to quantify how tough she is," UW sprints coach Raul Sheen said. "I mean, what she did this past weekend ... there are moments in your coaching career that just blow you away. That one did.
"Jordan Carlson should not be able to run a 53.75, let alone in the condition she is in. For her to be so warrior-like, it's one of the absolutely amazing feats I have ever seen."
And it's just her latest one.
Friday, again with minimal training because of the pain, she will attempt one last time to qualify individually for an NCAA championship. She will run the 400 in UW's Final Qualifier at Dempsey.
She could pass on that, and settle for the fact she is hopefully to be running again at the NCAA indoor championships in Fayetteville, Ark., March 9-10 on Washington's DMR team. The Huskies' currently have the ninth-best DMR time in the country this season with one weekend of qualifying to go. The top 12 times qualify for the national finals.
But begging out of a race is so un-Carlson-like.
"This weekend, I'm running," she says flatly.
To do it here, she is declining a prestigious invite to run independently in the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Albuquerque. But she can't qualify for the NCAA indoor finals there, so she is choosing to stay at UW and make one last, pained push for an individual national championship.
Carlson wants this final chance at an NCAA individual title because of the one she was denied last spring.
At the 2012 NCAA outdoor preliminaries in Austin, Texas, she ran the 11th-best time in the 400. As she saw the times posted after the event's final heat, she saw hers was among the top 12, and a dozen women advanced to the national semifinals and finals the following week in Iowa.
But then the scoreboard also flashed the "Qs" next to the names and times to signify the automatic and time qualifiers. The top three times in each national quarterfinals heat automatically advanced, and the remaining spots went to the next highest times. Carlson ran each of her two rounds in loaded heats, and her time of 53.34 was outside the top three in her heat but was faster than two automatic qualifiers from a slower heat.
She missed the NCAA final site in Iowa by .01 seconds.
"I thought I was in. I saw the times in the previous heat. I was like, `Oh, I beat that girl.' Then they put the times up -- and I was in there," she said. "Then I wasn't. It was the weirdest thing ever.
Her mother, Connie Klein, had made the trip to Austin from her home in Arizona. It was the first time she had seen Jordan race in college. She and Metcalf, also sitting in the grandstand, could see what was going down as the Qs went up above and below Carlson's name on the scoreboard.
"I walked off the track bawling," Carlson said. "I saw Metcalf in the stands and in that moment I just started crying and went behind the stands by myself. He came up behind me and told me some really amazing things that I needed to hear - but that I really couldn't hear at the time."
The hardest thing about the 400 is the anticipation of the pain ... You come out of the blocks and see how far you have to go and you are like, `Well, I'm already tired.'
It was her last chance at the NCAA Outdoor Championship. Her outdoor eligibility expired on that excruciating technicality.
"I'm not going to lie, I was crushed," she said. "It's taken me a while to get over that; I'm probably still not over it, to be honest. I'm still a little bitter."
"But ultimately that was on me; I wasn't as ready to run that day as I needed to be, and I was thinking ahead to (the next round) in Iowa. And I got a trophy out of the year on the DMR, so I'm okay with that."
She is also OK with pain. Obviously.
She spent parts of her freshmen and sophomore years at UW on crutches because of the hip and pelvis issues that weren't fully understood until recently. She tore her hamstring right after first breaking the school record in 2011, which forced her to miss that year's Pac-12 meet. And she runs perhaps track's most grueling race, an all-out sprint around the oval that requires 100-meter effort over four times the distance.
"It's so exhausting. The things that the 400 requires you to do should not be physically possible," she says. "It's also one of the most mental races.
"The hardest thing about the 400 is the anticipation of the pain. Not necessarily the pain; the pain is not as bad as the anticipation of it. You come out of the blocks and see how far you have to go and you are like, `Well, I'm already tired.' I mean, if I could shut off my brain I would be a lot faster."
Asked if it is at 200 meters where she first feels that pain, she replied, "Well, me being hurt, I feel pain all the time. Stepping onto the track, I'm like `I'm already hurting!'"
This, from UW's record holder for the 400 meters.
Then again, as Carlson says, "I'm just a natural overachiever. I want to beat everybody at everything."
Her first major was international studies, then anthropology, after she loved an exploration class to Greece during her freshman year. Then she added history. Last year, she added a global health specialty.
"I'm kind of a quadruple major," she said.
She intends to go to graduate school and do her own research. Her goal is to be an ambassador, maybe in the Himalayan region or perhaps India.
She will be the second child in her family to graduate from college, after her middle sister. Jamie is a teacher, as is their mother, in Douglas, Ariz., on the border with Mexico.
"I have an absent father. My dad used to be around, but he was just an unhealthy presence in my life," Jordan said.
She was accepted to Columbia of the Ivy League and was excited.
"But realistically," she says, "their athletic program really isn't that outstanding. And I was a poor kid. Just going to college was a great opportunity."
So she stayed in state and signed with Washington. Then-Huskies assistant coach Lamont Vaughn sagely told her she could go from a raw 100- and 200-meter runner to a 400-meter record holder.
"The fact I got to go to college was amazing," she says. "My parents didn't have a fund or anything."
To make the NCAA indoor championships in the 400, Carlson needs one of the nation's 16 fastest times. Friday, she needs to run at least .7 seconds faster than she ever has indoors.
Yes, that's a lot -- especially with her hamstring sending searing pain through her body with each stride.
"I'm not even sure I can make it," she says, as real as ever. "The truth is I'm as fast as I was a month ago because I haven't been able to train to improve myself since.
"So it's really going to be a heart-and-soul race."
With Jordan Carlson, what else is new?
She couldn't - and wouldn't -- end her UW career any other way.