Hurdles, water just the latest obstacles for Brown

After a long time away, Emily Brown has found a niche in the steeplechase.

David McCoy

Perhaps it’s fitting that Emily Brown runs the 3,000-meter steeplechase, considering how she got there.

After all, the sophomore on Minnesota’s women’s track and field team has had to clear quite a few hurdles before making a splash.

In fact, she said if somebody told her she’d be competing in next weekend’s NCAA Championships in the steeplechase when she was in high school, she wouldn’t have believed them.

First, it was her left foot.

A little slip on some snowy steps cost Brown her senior year of high school, twisting her ankle and displacing an extra bone in her foot.

“Pretty much the only way to fix it was surgery,” Brown said. “It wasn’t anything major at all; it’s just that bone in there is really sensitive, I guess.”

Surgery the following July was a key factor in her decision to redshirt her freshman year at Minnesota.

But when she suffered exactly the same injury to her right foot the next December, followed by surgery on it in April 2004, Brown found herself forced to sit out yet again.

“After the first surgery in July before my freshman year, I was probably ready to go,” Brown said. “But we decided I was going to redshirt that track season. I just wasn’t expecting to get injured again.”

Brown said she competed in only three races in the three years between her junior year of high school and this season.

But not one of those races was the steeplechase. In fact, prior to this season, Brown had never participated in the steeplechase – not even in high school.

But obviously, experience wasn’t a prerequisite for success for Brown, who approached coach Gary Wilson about running the steeplechase just before the start of this season because she didn’t think she’d be fast enough for the 1,500 and the 5,000 would be too far.

In her first steeplechase competition at the Northridge Invitational in Irvine, Calif., those same troubled feet moved Brown to a new school record with a time of 10:40.66.

From there, Wilson knew Brown found her niche.

“I went, ‘Ooh, this kid has got the real tools, to be off that long and run that well,’ ” Wilson said. “She’s just a phenom.”

Brown was also a part of the 4×400 meter relay team that competed at regionals and the distance medley relay team that set a new school record earlier in the year.

She has reset the school steeplechase record three times this season and took second in last weekend’s Midwest Regionals.

Brown said she stayed up late Monday night writing down competitors’ regional times and season bests, trying to see how she stacked up, and noticed the NCAAs had trial heats before qualifying for the final race.

Brown is ranked 27th going in, and the top 14 make the final.

But being predictable has never been her style anyway.

“That’s going to be a really big goal of mine,” Brown said. “It’s something that might not happen, and I think that would be fine. I think it would be enough to just be there for the first year, and making finals would be great, but I don’t see anything much further than that right now.”