Steeplechase racing

Oswego's Molly Fitzgibbons competes in the 2,000-meter steeplechase at last year's state track meet. Fitzgibbons is slated to compete in the steeplechase at nationals this weekend.

OSWEGO — Molly Fitzgibbons recently suffered a compound fracture in her foot. The Oswego High School junior felt some pressure in her foot for almost a year, but wasn’t aware of the extent of it when it hurt more during the first week of track season.

“It’s been hurting here and there, but didn’t realize how bad it was until I visited the doctors, ” she said.

The injury limited Fitzgibbons’ ability to compete at the highest level for most of the season. The healing process, however, is coming for her at the right time.

“It’s feeling better now. It’s been a long season managing the injury,” she said.

That time pertains to Fitzgibbons competing in the 2,000-meter steeplechase at New Balance Outdoor Track Nationals, which will be held at North Carolina A&T’s track facility.

Fitzgibbons is set to run the steeplechase at nationals this Saturday at noon.

“I’m very excited. It should be fun,” she said. “I’m looking forward to competing in the warm weather.”

Fitzgibbons added, “It’s a nice opportunity.”

The qualifying time for the steeplechase at nationals is 7:15. Fitzgibbons beat that time at the Salt City Athletic Conference Empire Division meet when she clocked in a time of 7:11.04.

“She didn’t have a lot of opportunities to qualify,” Oswego coach Dom Pike said. “I was very excited when she qualified (at the SCAC meet).”

Fitzgibbons got her seed time down to 7:06 at the Section III state qualifier. While her time wasn’t enough to qualify for the New York State Track Championships, Fitzgibbons knew that nationals were still in her midst.

“I was hoping to qualify for states, but nationals is the next best thing,” she said.

Based on Fitzgibbons’ top time in the steeplechase, she would’ve been a top-10 finisher at states if she qualified. Despite this, Pike sees her not going to states as an advantage her for leading up to nationals.

“I think the week off will help her performance this week,” Pike said. “In cross country, kids take off federations to prepare for nationals. Molly took off states to prepare for nationals, so it could aid her performance. Other kids could be beat up from the state meet.”

Fitzgibbons is part of an illustrious group of competitors at the national event. New York State piles up a slew of top finishers in the distance and steeplechase races.

In last year’s steeplechase, the top 24 finishers were from New York State.

“That’s the state we have for steeplechase,” Pike said.

For the current and past seasons, Fitzgibbons mainly focuses on the distances. Of course more recently, it’s been all about steeplechase preparation — which is also an advantage for Fitzgibbons’ injury.

“We’ve been able to focus on the shorter distance because she trains for the 3,000 all year,” Pike said. “Now we can pull things back a bit, and avoid some wear and tear on the foot by not doing as many miles.”

The Oswego junior hasn’t had much opportunity to go hard in practice and competition for most of the season. Fitzgibbons has picked up the pace in practice the past month, but the goal before nationals is to cut the intensity in half.

“The goal is taper down a bit before competition,” she said. “I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing all season.”

Pike said, “We build up for a month, then taper down for a bit during championship week.”

The top eight finishers receive medals in each event at nationals. Fitzgibbons has a top-15 seed time, so her work is cut out for her.

“She has to knock off a few people, but once she gets there I think she’ll perform,” Pike said.

Pike added, “Molly handles all competition the same. She takes it as it comes and always has a smile on her face, win or lose. Pressure bothers Molly the least.”

While Fitzgibbons’ foot is still in the healing process, it’s in a much better place than it was at the beginning of the season.

“It’s not exactly ready to go, however, she’s healthier than she has been all season,” Pike said.

No matter what happens to Fitzgibbons in the steeplechase at nationals, she’ll finish with a big smile on her face.

“It’ll be tough, but it’ll be fun,” she said.

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