Amanda Balzer can laugh about it now, but the Chartiers-Houston High School senior had to endure some difficult adjustments to become a top-flight hurdler.
Maybe the most perplexing was understanding how important it is to listen to your body.
As a sophomore, Balzer decided to compete in the WPIAL Championships on an injured ankle without letting the C-H coaches know. It did not go well.
“I never had it diagnosed,” she said. “In the 100-meter preliminaries, I broke my foot on the third hurdle. In the final, I could barely walk.”
Though Balzer was a promising hurdler, her chances of qualifying for the PIAA Championships were finished, and a lesson was learned the hard way.
She spent four weeks in a boot as the foot healed, but the incident drove home an important point: Taking care of your body is just as critical to success as the time it takes to complete the race.
“Her breaking her foot changed our relationship,” said Chartiers-Houston coach Karlon Nixon. “She told me she was fine and ran on it. I told her that she could not run again if she wasn’t going to tell me when she was hurt.”
Nixon understood why Balzer kept quiet. She is such a competitor that she did not want to let her coaches or teammates down by missing time with an injury. Often times, that thinking simply makes a bad situation worse.
“I can relate to that,” said Nixon, a talented athlete at Washington High School. “I broke my hip in the first meet of the 2000 season. I was running the 400 relay when I heard it crack. I was just growing too fast.”
Nixon drives home the point that making coaches aware of your pain is not a bad thing.
“If they’re hurt, a lot of kids think (the coaches) are going to be mad at them,” Nixon said. “I’m not, and I tell them that every year. Any time a kid tells me they’re hurting, I’m not going to let them run.”
Balzer loves to run hurdles, which is another reason why she wanted to keep her injury a secret. She finds her release on the track, competing with others, and didn’t want to waste a moment away from practice.
“It was not the best decision I made to run on it,” she said. “Now, I’ve matured. I’ve become more in tune with my body. I know when to take breaks.”
Balzer took up the hurdles in eighth grade, which also was when Chartiers-Houston began its junior high program. Balzer caught Nixon’s eye at one of the practices.
“The first time I saw her, I sent one of the coaches over to work with her,” said Nixon. “Her stride was so natural. Her legs are pretty long for her body size.”
Balzer’s times improved over the years. Her best as a freshman in the 100 hurdles was 16.2, which fell to 15.9 as a sophomore, then 15.7 as a junior. She has shaved nearly a half second this year, hitting 15.2.
Balzer is famous for her slow starts but fantastic finishes.
“I’ve always been slow in the first six hurdles,” she says. “After five or six, I break away.”
In Thursday’s WPIAL Class AA Championships, Balzer finished second in the 100 hurdles and sixth in the 300 hurdles, the weaker of the two events for her. Emily Lelis of Springfield, the defending state champion in both events, won easily. Balzer’s performances, however, qualified her for this week’s PIAA Championships at Shippensburg.
“I get nervous before races,” said Balzer. “I need to feel confident. I’ve been here before. I just run my race, and don’t worry about anyone else.”