Sarah Mawdsley takes a stand

Britney Dixon, Sports Manager

Only four meets into her freshman year, captain Sarah Mawdsley from Sandy Hook, Connecticut broke the Roger Williams University women’s track and field record by 25 seconds in the 3000-meter steeplechase with a time of 12:23.35.

Just under a year later, Mawdsley has broken her own record several times with a current personal best of 11:42.29. Through all these improvements, Mawdsley placed 16th out of 24 in the event at the 2017 Outdoor Track and Field New England Championships and was named the week one Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Women’s Track Athlete of the Week for the 2018 season.

All of Mawdsley’s accomplishments are especially impressive due to the lack of equipment at her home track at the Portsmouth High School facilities where RWU practices.

The event is not common at the high school level. Prior to RWU, Mawdsley had only competed in the event twice at large invitationals. She and her teammates would utilize hurdles at practices to get the most preparation that they could given the circumstances.

“We would jump over hurdles the day before and pray we did alright in the race,” Mawdsley said.

Since steeplechase is such a dangerous event, this was definitely not ideal. For one, if a runner clips a hurdle, it will fall down. If they clip a steeple, it is too heavy to move anywhere and the runner will likely fall. According to Drake University assistant coach Dan Hostager, the barriers are similar to something that would block the road and they are made from wood or metal.

Another caution is the water pit. If a runner is not wearing the appropriate footwear, they could slip in the water pit. Aside from all these obstacles, runners also have to take caution of the other runners around them near these traps.

For this event, runners have to do long distance, mid-distance and hurdle training. Without these barriers at the track, Mawdsley can do nothing but long distance training.

“The closer we get to a race I do some workouts with hurdles, but not a whole lot,” Mawdsley said. “I believe I was able to break the school record based solely on talent.”

It wasn’t until the beginning of Mawdsley’s sophomore season at the Eastern Connecticut State University Invitational that she was able to jump over the steeples like a hurdle instead of stepping over them, which has helped her improve her time slightly. However, jumping over the water pit involves stepping on the barrier to give the runner the best distance across the water, similar to a long-jumper.

If Mawdsley had this equipment at the ready, she would be even more competitive during the postseason. In order to supply Portsmouth High School and the RWU track and field athletes all the equipment necessary for the event, the RWU Athletic Department would have to purchase four standard barriers and one with a water pit. This would normally cost anywhere from $10,000-14,000. Mawdsley’s coach, Sean Livingston, has been able to find a generous deal to purchase the equipment in total for a price of only $8,000.

“Not having barriers has set me back quite a bit because you can’t really work on what you need to fix unless you can practice doing it over and over again,” Mawdsley said. “Landing the water jump is a big thing I need to work on, and I can’t because I can’t jump on a hurdle.”

Mawdsley, with built up emotions from not being able to compete in her event, has taken action. On April 5, Mawdsley reached out to her family of 70 to ask for help. In preparation for her presentation for Athletic Director, Kiki Jacobs, Mawdsley collected testimonials from her teammates who shared how they would feel if they couldn’t compete in their events and the level of equality they notice across different sports at the university.

“Since I am in my first year, I don’t know the entire history yet. Not having a track on campus is difficult for all the teams,” said RWU Athletic Director Kiki Jacobs.

“It’s really frustrating to see an athlete that has been so successful be ignored by our athletic department,” said senior Nick Malone, Mawdsley’s fellow captain. “Her success, as well as the success of others on the team, would greatly improve if given the opportunity to properly practice steeplechase.”

Mawdsley has been thankful for the assistance of the athletic department thus far and hopes that she and her teammates will be able to compete in the CCC Championships this year and take home some points for their team.

“Coach Livingston and I have reached out to at least five schools in the area trying to get steeplechase hurdles for the CCC Championship,” Jacobs said. “So far, we are waiting to hear back, but we hope to have an answer soon.”