By now, Sarah Becker is accustomed to the quizzical looks she gets after telling people she competes in the steeplechase.
“It’s funny, they always say, ‘What’s that?’ Then I tell them what the steeplechase is, and they go,
‘You mean it has water in it?’”
Somewhat of an oddity but always a crowd pleaser, the race is 3,000 meters long and includes five hurdles, but not the type that sprinters easily leap over.
Steeplechase hurdles are large, long wooden barriers — so sturdy that runners can step on them. “But if you hit them, they don’t fall down. You do,” Becker says.
One of the hurdles is followed by a pool of water, which is contained in a pit that slopes upward from the base of the barrier until leveling off when it meets the surface of the track.
The first time Becker gave the steeplechase a try, as a freshman at Independence (Kan.) Community College, she miscalculated a leap and plopped into the water. On a 34-degree day. “Haven’t fallen since,” she says proudly.
From those soggy beginnings, Becker has developed into a record-setting performer for WSU’s talent-rich track and field team. Becker, who recently completed her junior season, won the steeplechase championship May 14 at the Missouri Valley Conference meet in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She helped the Shockers outdistance Southern Illinois 173-148 to win the conference team title for the second straight year.
Less than two weeks later, Becker bettered her own school and conference record by clocking a 10:26.10 and finishing third at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Norman, Okla. The performance earned her a trip to the NCAA National Championship.
WSU coaches continue to be impressed by Becker, who went to junior college as a basketball player. But the 5-foot-10 Broken Arrow, Okla., native has excelled because she has the perfect build and mentality for the steeplechase, assistant track coach Randy Hasenbank ’90/95 says. “She’s a long-legged girl, so the barriers don’t pose a threat. She’s athletic, very coordinated, and she has the right mindset: She’s competitive and detail oriented.”
The steeplechase has a long history — the event was placed on the Olympics program in 1900 — but it has been an NCAA women’s race for only four years. In that short time, WSU has developed into a Steeplechase U. of sorts under the guidance of Hasenbank, who himself competed in the event in college. In addition to Becker, freshman Mica Land also qualified for the NCAA meet in the steeplechase.
“It’s my favorite event by far,” says Becker, who maintains a 3.7 GPA as an accounting major. “I like the fact that it’s more than just running. There’s jumping, you have to have the right technique. I love it.”