PROVO — Someday, Jordan High’s new head track and field coach Alyssa Dalton might have to corner an athlete and make a challenge about working through adversity, blocking out pain, rising to the moment.
Her credentials will be impeccable.
Last weekend Dalton ran in the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, as a BYU 100-meter hurdler, and did so with a torn ACL in her right knee suffered at the NCAA Regionals in Sacramento. She tore that key ligament making a last-second lunge at the finish line to qualify for nationals for the second time in her collegiate career.
Gutsy as a cage fighter, confident as a Marine, this team captain finished a seven-year injury-filled college career without regret or complaint.
Dalton redlined it to the end. Nobody would have blamed her if she’d scratched at nationals due to the injury.
But she ran. Because she’d earned it.
Dalton took last place, but attacked every hurdle, hit three-step strides between each one and ran just a few ticks over 15 seconds, the exact time she posted as a high school freshman, which was best at her high school in Fresno, California. She will have ACL surgery Monday, her third, the second on that right knee.
“If anything, she has grit,” said her coach Kyle Grossarth. “She is determined and motivated. For her to run on a torn ACL a week and a half after she tore it proves it right there.”
Dalton wasn’t close to her elite form, a near perfect blend of balance, speed and explosive timing, said Grossarth. She wore a black knee brace, tweaked to give her support. Her injured knee, the trail leg, lagged a bit. But she didn’t crash. In 13 years, she’s crashed only three times and this wasn’t one of them.
“Her goal was to finish. Early on, leading up to nationals, her goal was to just start the race, but she saw she could do a little bit more each time," Grossarth explained. “Then the goal became to just finish, and it got to the point where I was saying, ‘Hey, we have to back off a little bit,’ because I know how she is. She would go at it with everything. She went over all 10 hurdles.”
Dalton finishes her college career as BYU’s No. 3 fastest in the 60-meter hurdles and No. 4 best in the 100 hurdles.
At the Sacramento regional, Dalton knew from surveying the field that she’d need her best effort. She was nervous, put pressure on herself. She decided she needed to beat the woman next to her in her middle lane assignment and if she did that, she’d qualify for Eugene.
But seconds after the starter’s gun sounded, she found herself behind and started to panic. She strained, pushed hard, began clawing for everything she could muster through the 10 hurdles. Then at the sprint to the finish line, she thought she needed to exaggerate her lean. That’s when her right leg flew out at an awkward angle. She felt it instantly and knew exactly what had happened. It was her ACL. Again.
As trainers and a doctor examined her, Dalton had her eyes on the scoreboard. She had not finished ahead of her target lane mate, but she had also defeated a competitor near the first lane to her left and had qualified.
The euphoric celebration of that moment may have carried her not just for that day and night but the week ahead as her pain appeared to be a little masked.
She couldn’t walk very well the next day, Sunday, but by Tuesday she could run and even hop over a few shortened practice hurdles. It was then she decided she would at least start at nationals at the University of Oregon, where she once helped earn a national championship for the Ducks before transferring to BYU.
“I was nine days out and I told the coach I could at least go over a few hurdles, which was a miracle,” said Dalton. “My first ACL I could hardly walk for a whole week. My second ACL, I was in a brace and couldn’t even jog for 10 days after. But I was running and going over hurdles three days after I injured this one.”
Dalton was outfitted with a brace with extra straps, adjusted hinges and a special sleeve. It was bulky but supportive.
“I told my coach I wanted to run. I didn’t want to embarrass my school, my team, my family or myself. I asked what he thought would be appropriate. Coach told me he didn’t care, to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t know if I could even make it over 10 hurdles. I’d gone over three hurdles the week leading up to the race and I did three in warmups. Everyone thought I’d go over just one and walk off the track.
“I got over all 10. I ran a 15.05. I’d run 15 or under twice in high school as a freshman, so when I went over the 10th I was smiling. There is a photo of me smiling. I was only a little sore but I didn’t even ice it because I was seeing everyone. I even walked around Portland the next day with just a sleeve on the knee.”
What advice would Dalton give to athletes coming back from injury — since she’s done this over and over again?4 comments on this story
“Be patient. You need to have patience and go through the process. It isn’t easy and there were a lot of times I wanted to quit. But if there is this thing inside of you telling you to go on, wait it out until you are healthy before making a decision,” said Dalton.
“Also, it is so important to have support around you, family, friends, trainers. It is so important.”
Now a coach herself, Dalton, who is married to former BYU decathlete Chase Dalton, has all these competitive miles behind her young life. There will come a time she will come face to face with an athlete who might need a kick in the butt.
One can only imagine Dalton beginning the counseling session by saying, “Let me tell you a story …”