Illinois State University track and field runner Rachel Hickey earned herself a spot on Team USA by qualifying for the Pan American U20 Championships.
Running a time of four and a half minutes at the USA Track and Field U20 Outdoor Championships in the 1,500-meter secured her spot on Team USA.
“It still doesn’t feel real, it’s a dream come true,” Hickey said.
This was Hickey’s first time competing in a national caliber competition, however that wasn’t the only first for her that weekend. This was also her first time running the 1500-meter in competition, which is 100 meters shorter than the mile.
“It was mentally difficult to shove it in the back of my mind, but I went in to run hard and have fun and take whatever came out of it,” Hickey said.
Hickey is a sophomore from Peru, Illinois. She is a double major in journalism and marketing and has been running track since the age of 11.
“You can’t let the size of where you’re from limit what you are capable of doing,” Hickey said.
Despite her success, it hasn’t been an easy journey for Hickey as she faced the injuries and pressures that come along with being a division one athlete.
“Sometimes it’s a lot harder than it seems,” Hickey said.
Hickey was injured during her recent collegiate indoor season and ended up having to sit out and redshirt her outdoor season. “Redshirting” allows an athlete to sit out a year and gain an extra year of playing collegiate sports. In Hickey’s case she will gain an extra outdoor season.
“The injury was almost a blessing in disguise,” Hickey said. “I was emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of our indoor season.”
Hickey went on to address the struggle of dealing with the body image pressures that many female athletes face.
“There is no ideal body stature for running and there shouldn’t be,” Hickey said. “Normalizing weight gaining in running should be a thing, it becomes unhealthy when people think they need to become skinnier to become faster, when that’s really not the case.”
Collegiate athletes are under a constant watch to continuously look and perform their best. Female athletes face public scrutiny and can be depicted as “too muscular”, “too skinny” or “not feminine looking” enough. Each sport is considered to have its own ‘ideal’ body type that comes with its own set of expectations.
Hickey went on to voice her thoughts on body standards in athletics.
“At the end of the day you can’t control what your body looks like and it shouldn’t be about your body type, it should be what you are capable of doing,” she said. “If you ever hear those comments. counteract that with ‘judge my ability, not what my body looks like.’”
Hickey trains up to 25 hours a week, running about 50 miles per week.
“I don’t do this because I want to beat people or because I want to win,” Hickey said. “I want to love what I’m doing and be the best version of myself.”
Hickey will continue her training at ISU with her coaches, but once she arrives in Costa Rica to compete for Team USA at the Pan American U20 Championships, she will be under the direct guidance of Team USA’s track and field coaches.
The upcoming championship will take place on July 19 and will go through to July 21.