May 26, 2011
One of the fastest women in the history of the University of Washington, the finish line for Dominique Lauderdale's Husky career is rapidly approaching, which is a shame because the senior is still picking up speed. The Southern California native has made this final season her best yet, persevering when her body did not want to cooperate, and working to
Lauderdale is now in Eugene, Oregon with the rest of the Husky NCAA Prelim qualifiers, where the best track and field athletes in the western half of the U.S. will be fighting for a spot in the finals in two weeks in Des Moines, Iowa. Earning one of the twelve spots available in the 100-meter dash could require the best performance of Lauderdale's career, but it's definitely within reach, and if she is able to move on, it certainly will be hard earned.
"I just need to trust in my confidence and my speed and know that I can go out there and make the top twelve," says Lauderdale from the team hotel in Eugene. "It would really mean the world to me because it's my last chance to do it. This is my last year and I'm hoping and praying that I can get there."
Lauderdale took a circuitous route to arrive in Seattle, going from her native Bakersfield first to the University of Arkansas, where she competed at the sprint-heavy SEC Championships as a freshman. But Lauderdale felt a need to look elsewhere, and found what she wanted in terms of academics, location, and team atmosphere at UW. After she committed, Washington made a change in its sprints program, with Raul Sheen coming up from Long Beach State, but Lauderdale never second guessed her decision.
"I would've come either way because I liked the program. Coach Metcalf was a good head coach and was part of the reason that I came here." The women's group was in a full-on rebuilding mode, but Lauderdale liked what she saw from her new coach. "Coach Sheen came and he worked hard--he knew that it was a new team with a new coach and you can tell that he's really passionate about his athletes and about the program."
One of the biggest things the two have worked out is the best way to keep Lauderdale on the track. Combating the injury bug has been a constant for Lauderdale since her freshman year at Arkansas. She competed just once indoors over the past two years, and she and her coaches and trainers have worked to find the right mix of workouts to keep her getting stronger without doing too much.
When she ran, she ran well, such as making the Pac-10 final in the 100-meter dash as a junior in 2010, placing sixth. She was the first Husky to make the final since 2007. And Lauderdale went on to finish 36tth overall in the West Prelims; good, but all the while she knew there was much more to be had. Throughout her sophomore and junior seasons, Lauderdale says she kept her head held high, staying focused and positive despite the occasional setback, and trusting that things would come together.
Heading into the 2011 season, they did. Lauderdale stayed healthy and was able to run a full indoor season. From her first race, it was obvious she was a different athlete. The trust she developed with her coach played a big role. "Coach Sheen knows that I know what my limit is, so if I know that I can't do something then shut it down, and we have that connection so I know when to do the right thing."
"The off season I didn't really do any conditioning; I biked for nine weeks and that really helped me in getting back in shape and not having to deal with a nagging injury in indoor season because all I did was bike," she says, which allowed her to consistently do every workout in practice for the first time. "It helped me get that speed, technique, and intensity in indoor season and I kept progressing and progressing and I was really proud of myself."
Lauderdale barely missed the school record indoors, running 7.37 seconds in the 60-meter dash, just .03 seconds out of the top spot. Now that school record is tantalizingly close again outdoors, as Lauderdale has run 11.57 seconds this year, a full two-tenths faster than her PR entering the season, and approaching the 11.47 record held by Zelda Johnson since 1985.
That adds extra incentive to the weekend, and the dream would be to set the school record while qualifying for the NCAA final site. But a lot of outside factors such as wind and warmth will have a say, and all Lauderdale can do is run her race. Again, Lauderdale is managing an injury--tendonitis in her hip flexor--and she did not set foot on the track from the end of Pac-10s two weeks ago until the team's shakeout in Eugene on Wednesday. Characteristically, she's not letting that affect her goals.
"The record has been on my mind since indoor season when I was trying to get the 60 meter record. I've been trying to do it all season and it will mean so much to me if I can accomplish that. I know that I'm close to it and that I can do it, and it will help to come out to Regionals and run with so many great competitors. I have to trust in my speed and just believe that God will work in my favor."
Even if she comes up short, however, Lauderdale is already proud of her senior campaign. "I feel like I can do it, and I'm trying really hard--if I don't get it then it just wasn't my time. It would mean a lot to me though, to run that fast and make it to Nationals. I've been proud of my whole season overall so far, so I just want to end it right."
Should she not advance, Lauderdale won't be ready to hang up her spikes quite yet. The improvement she has shown this year can still be carried forward if she can continue to stay healthy.
Lauderdale again has confidence that "I can get a lot faster than I am right now--I really do feel like I can. If the opportunity comes for me to run at the next level then I'm all for it. I'm still going to train after my season is over, because I know I can run faster than I'm running right now and if I stay healthy and keep training for it I know I'll be able to do it."
Looking ahead, Lauderdale will be walking in the UW commencement ceremony in front of her family, which will be making the trip up from Seattle. She'll earn her degree in sociology with a diversity minor, and like many soon-to-be college graduates, she isn't exactly sure where she'll wind up career-wise, but has long thought about pursuing social work with children. She'll miss her second family on the sprints crew, especially juniors Bianca Greene and Jordan Carlson, who came in as freshmen when Lauderdale arrived as a sophomore.
"The only ones left that came in with me are Bianca and Jordan and we've grown a lot and we're a lot better friends now than we were in the beginning. It makes me sad that I won't be able to be out there on the same relay team with them. I love them with all of my heart and I'm just glad that I was able to run with them." Like Lauderdale, Greene and Carlson have fought to stay healthy, with Carlson enjoying her best year this season as well, breaking the school record at 400-meters. "It means a lot to me that we're still hanging on strong and we can still show what we can do. I love all of my teammates; we all fit together like family and that's what I love the most about this team."