EVEN HEROES FALL, BUT THEY GET RIGHT BACK UP
Even heroes fall, but they get right back up.
St. Pius X senior Haley Rizek just completed one of the most memorable careers in school history. One of her final races at the prep level turned out to be one of the most memorable.
Friday afternoon at the preliminaries of State Track & Field Championships, Rizek set the record in the 100m hurdles event. Rizek had been the favorite in the hurdles for the past couple years. She was a two-time state champ in both the 100m hurdles and 300m hurdles after sweeping in both her sophomore and junior seasons.
Rizek lined up for Saturday’s final in the 100m hurdles.
Bang! The gun went off.
False start by one of the competitors.
“I had been in a meet earlier this season with a false start and it threw me off, so I wanted to focus,” Rizek recalled of the race.
Second attempt, bang! The race is underway.
Rizek lept over the first hurdle, then the second, and a third. She jumped out to an early lead.
“I felt really good until midway through the race. I could feel my hamstrings were a little sore,” Rizek said. Another state title was in her grasp. The dominant performer in this event was sure to win another one. Then came the final hurdle. Rizek clipped the last one, stumbled and fell to the ground just before the finish line.
The crowd gasped, feeling sorry for the defending champ.
“I remember being on the ground and thinking ‘Oh no!’ I made one final shrug forward,” she recalled as she crawled across the finish line.
Rizek finished fourth.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Rizek said. “My coach had me going a lot faster, I think I was bringing my trail leg around faster than usual.”
“It was upsetting, I was almost in disbelief that it happened. I didn’t take it too hard. I wasn’t hurt. One of the other racers came up and gave me a hug and it made me feel so much better.”
Rizek composed herself and minutes later got up on the podium, standing above the #4 instead of the top position she was used to.
But Rizek’s world didn’t crumble. There wasn’t a free-flowing stream of tears or no head hanging low.
“I went back to the trailer and was sitting by myself and thinking about it,” said Rizek. “I realized it’s one of those moments in your life to use as an excuse or you can use it for fuel and come back.”
Her next event was the 300m hurdles. It was an event she won the previous two seasons.
“I decided to run the race I usually run and not put pressure on myself.”
Rizek lined up for the 300m hurdles.
Bang! Stride, stride, leap. Stride, stride, leap. She went over each hurdle successfully and crossed the finish line first once again, winning the 300m hurdles for the third straight year.
“When I won, everything was back to normal,” she said.
An hour later, Rizek still had one more event to go. She would finish her high school career with the javelin. She barely qualified for the finals by three inches. She decided to use her stumble earlier in the day as motivation for her final throws.
“For the javelin I decided to use it as fuel, chest bumping my coaches. I needed to go all out.”
Rizek won the javelin with a throw of 134’6”, over 9 feet better than her previous personal best.
As this chapter closes on her high school athletic career, Rizek leaves behind a memorable resume including her name in the state record books for her mark in the 100m hurdles.
“Going into my senior season, it was definitely one of my top goals. I had it on my screen saver, all the records I wanted to go for. To run that time was a feeling that all the hard work paid off.”
It’s been quite a career for Rizek. She won a state volleyball title with the Sartans in 2016 and helped her team reach the title game again in 2017. In fact, she played four years of varsity volleyball at St. Pius X.
“My freshman and sophomore years I thought I’d play volleyball in college, then I realized I wasn’t going to be six feet tall,” Rizek explained on how she decided to focus on specializing in track.
She also sampled cross country for four years and gave swimming a try. “Swimming my sophomore year, I was just on JV and I almost drowned.”
Like many other athletes, Rizek found her specialty and it was on the track.
“When I was a freshman, Sarah Root from the Four Corners was running hurdles and I thought I’d never be as fast as her. But it was one of the goals I wanted to accomplish in high school.”
Now Rizek is the one others will look up to.
“There’s been a lot of coaches who invested their time to help me,” Rizek pointed out. “It’s crazy to think I set the record. It hasn’t really set in. I still feel like the little freshman girl who got sixth in the hurdles and trained on a dirt track for four years.”
Rizek will run track at the University of Pennsylvania and she hopes to study neuroscience. Before she leaves for college she plans to compete in the heptathlon against some of the best high school talent in the country at the Great Southwest Track Meet in Albuquerque at the end of this month.