By REID TUCKER
South Walton track and field powerhouse Brittany Crittenden reckons the best way to start off her senior year is by winning gold at the Amateur Athletic Union’s 2011 national Junior Olympic Games.
In less than a week, Crittenden, a four-year national Junior Olympics qualifier, will test herself against the best competition the country has to offer when she travels to New Orleans for the 2011 games. Crittenden’s event, the heptathlon, as its name suggests, is a seven-event series comprised of the 100-meter hurdles, shot put, high jump, 200-meter sprint, long jump, javelin throw and the 800 sprint. Even though the events are spread over two days, Crittenden said heptathlons are probably the toughest challenge in track and field.
Thing is, that’s why she loves it.
“We’re the first ones to get there and the last ones to leave the track,” Crittenden said. “I think it’s one of the most challenging events in track and field. It tests your ability, your technique, how strong you are….
“The reason why I do it is because it pushes me past points I didn’t think I could be pushed past. The heptathlon is a big mental game and it teaches you how to be independent and rely on yourself and not on a team. You grow as a person as you get better in the heptathlon.”
Crittenden’s accomplishments in the heptathlon are many since she began training in the sport four years ago.
In addition to qualifying for three prior national-level Junior Olympiads, she was named an All-American for her performance at the 2010 ESPN RISE Games, held annually in July at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports, where she broke a Florida record that she still holds. She also dominated the field in the 800 sprint at New York’s prestigious New Balance Indoor Nationals, where her time of 2:21 was the fastest overall at the event. She again attained All-American status for her eighth-place finish out of a field of the nation’s best 28 heptathletes at last year’s national Junior Olympic Games. Crittenden won two Class 2A regional championships as a member of South Walton’s track team, broke a school record in the 400 as a freshman and placed in the long jump and hurdles in the final round of the state meet this past season.
Freeport High School track coach Willie Parker, who has been Crittenden’s private heptathlon coach since her eighth-grade year, said his trainee stands a good chance of bringing home a medal in spite of the past season’s ups and downs. He said Crittenden’s dedication to her training will serve her well when she faces the stiff competition of the Junior Olympics on Monday.
“The competition is going to be tight, but if we can improve on some of her weaker events then Brittany will be fine,” Parker said. “We’re trying to get better at all seven events, so that’s always something to think about. She works very hard in practice and is very dedicated to the sport. She’s always trying to get better.”
Beyond bringing home gold in New Orleans, Crittenden’s ultimate goal is to land a Division I scholarship and to be an All American at the collegiate level, all while pursuing a dentistry degree. As of right now, she’s strongly considering Virginia’s Liberty University but she has also received interest from Duke and South Alabama University. Regardless of what school she ends up attending, Crittenden said track and field, despite her love for the sport, is a means to get an education.
For Crittenden and her training partners and South Walton classmates Jessica Harrison, who qualified for her first-ever Junior Olympics this year, and Chris Sanders, who will attend Rice University on a track scholarship this fall, the sport is not a matter of fun and games.
“This is not a joke to us,” Crittenden said. “We’re using this to try to get into college and to hopefully get somewhere. It’s our ticket out, basically. My whole goal is to get a scholarship. I really love the sport but I’m trying to get my education. That’s the most important thing to me.”
To that end, Crittenden and her training partners work out six days a week, year-round, for up to five hours at a time during the summer and three hours a day during the school year. This kind of schedule is all about making sacrifices, leaving little room for family vacations, going out on weekends with her friends or even attending school dances due to having to travel meets (though Crittenden said she did plan to make it to her senior prom). However, when asked if she ever felt a mental burden from the constant training, Crittenden replied emphatically “No.”
“Of course I get tired, but that just comes with the hard work it takes to get good at the next level,” she said. “The hard work is worth it when you get that gold medal or have a personal best. The real world doesn’t care if you’re tired or worn out. You’ve got to go out there and get it done. That’s what the heptathlon has taught me.”