Going into the NAIA Outdoor National Championships on May 28, William Woods freshman Ellie Dimond was ranked 21st out of 22 competitors in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. She ran away as an All-American.
Dimond finished sixth at nationals to become the first women's runner All-American in William Woods history. Her time was 11:17.80 — a new personal best and a program record.
Through her time at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Dimond said she knew she was a strong distance runner. She was a state-qualifier for the Class 4 cross country state championships, where she finished 33rd and contributed to a second-place team, and ran the distance events in track.
Rock Bridge is also where Dimond discovered the steeplechase, she said, after her coaches told her to give it a try because she had a hurdles background in middle school. Dimond said she fit right in, impressing her coaches and leading her to want more of it. Going into her freshman season at William Woods this year, Dimond said she expressed interest to her coaches to be in the steeplechase after she found out that was an offered event.
The steeplechase originates to 19th century England and derives its name from when British males raced each other from church steeple to church steeple jumping over low walls and small rivers along the way. This experience is simulated with five barriers, four that Dimond said resemble a gymnastics balance beam and one in front of a water pit that runners vault over, trying not to land in the deep end near the wall to avoid being slowed down. The race became an Olympic event for men in 1920, but women would have to wait until 2008.
Dimond said the steeplechase is a combination of skills from events she has competed in the past. It has the long distance running of cross country and long distance track events such as the 1500-meter-run and has the hurdling like what is needed to compete in the 400-meter hurdles. Together, Dimond said you have one event that requires much stamina and the form to clear all the barriers.
"Cross country and track season kind of go hand in hand," Dimond said. "Cross country works the endurance side and track kind of helps your speed side."
Besides losing a track season to the pandemic, Dimond said she had to build up endurance before her first college chase because she was moving from five laps in high school to seven and a half laps in college. That meant she would have to clear the barriers more times during a race so Dimond said she had to get used to that in an event that could already be "super tiring," especially after the water jump, which Dimond considers to be the hardest part.
She said she also wasn't sure if her speed would be above mediocre and then heard from her coach after her first race she was four seconds off the NAIA B standard — the minimum time needed to advance to nationals. Knowing that, Dimond hit the standard her second time out but wouldn't run it again until nationals after straining her knee in that same race.
During that time, Dimond said she had to wait for her knee to heal so could clear the water jump, in particular, without feeling any pain. Also during that time, the rest of the 22-woman field would be set for nationals, with Dimond ranking second to last.
Before the preliminary races, she said she was "a nervous wreck all day" with her races around 9 p.m. being the only thing she could think about. Dimond said she wasn't sure how she would do, but the nerves would gradually go away after being out on the track and conversing with the other girls and her coaches. She really became comfortable after her first race, where she placed 12th overall to head into the finals, and believed finishing as an All-American was possible.
"That gave me so much courage that whenever I went into the final race, I was like, 'OK I got this. I can get eighth place,"' Dimond said. "It was a really great day."
Now that Dimond's first season at William Woods is in the books, she said she is "very impressed" with what she was able to accomplish. She would like to be an All-American in cross country as well. Dimond was the Owls top finisher at the 2019 cross country national championships but was eight spots out from the top 40, the threshold for being an All-American.
Expectations are higher now as she continues her track career, Dimond said, so she is hopeful she can surpass her previous seasons.
"I have a lot to strive for now," she said. "I've set the bar really high so I'm hoping that I can top that each year."