By GARY KINGSTON
Alycia Butterworth hasn’t run on the track at her old high school in Parksville in the decade since graduation. Not even just to train when back home visiting her parents.
It’s just not safe, she says, of the Ballenas Secondary School oval that is really a running track in name only. The deteriorating red cinder surface, which hasn’t been upgraded significantly since 1977, has no curb separating it from the infield grass, is often uneven because of poor drainage and strewn with rocks and is more suited to goats than high performance athletes.
“It’s dangerous for youth to run on it,” says Butterworth, one of Canada’s top steeplechasers. “It was like that when I was in high school. Here we are 11 years later and it’s even more overgrown.”
It’s also why, after earning $1,700 in prize money after a terrific performance in the 3,000-metre steeplechase at Saturday’s Harry Jerome Track Classic, Butterworth decided to make a $1,000 contribution to the Oceanside Community Track Project. The goal is to raise $1.5 million for a new six-lane rubberized track with funding from government, foundations, local organizations and private donors.
“They are working hard,” says Butterworth of the project backers, including the local track club, the city of Parksville, the school district and the town of Qualicum. “And they’re not going to stop working until they raise the funds. They’re already doing very well on Vancouver Island, but hopefully we generate a little more awareness throughout B.C.”
So far, the project, which also has a GoFundMe page, is one-third of the way to the funding goal.
Butterworth, who works as a data scientist for Translink, says that with a full-time job she was in a position to donate more than half of her prize money to the project. Her former coaches from Parksville, Kim and Randy Longmuir say Butterworth “trained tirelessly for many years” on the Ballenas track and they “couldn’t be prouder of Alycia.”
The 28-year-old Butterworth, who ran collegiately at the University of Idaho and now lives in Burnaby, is finally healthy after battling injuries for the past few years and just missed qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic at the Jerome.
She shaved nine seconds off her personal best, finishing in nine minutes, 31.27 seconds, just a tick behind Regan Yee of Hazelton, who was timed in 9:31.07. They needed to go 9:30.00 or better to qualify for Tokyo.
After falling off the pace midway through the race, Butterworth burst into the lead with 600 metres to go, but tired “very suddenly” the last time through the water jump, then made a technical mistake over the last hurdle.
“It was very bitter sweet, a mix of a lot of emotions,” said Butterworth of her race. “For the most part, I executed my race. I’m happy that I got myself back on track. But to be so close (to the standard), to not have quite enough to get that time was a hard pill to swallow.
“But I crushed my personal best and I feel like it put me on a good trajectory for the next races.”
Those races are both in Montreal, at the Olympic trials on June 25 and at a meet on June 29.
With the steeplechase field at the Olympics limited to 45, 28 have already qualified by running under the standard, including Genevieve Lalonde, who trains out of Victoria. Other spots will be filled through the World Athletics quota rankings on June 30 with a maximum of three per country. Yee is currently inside the cutline at 40th, while Butterworth is tied for 48th.
Most of the top female steeplechasers will be at the Olympic trials and Butterworth is confident she can run the standard there. But if not, a couple of fast times like she ran at the Jerome should produce enough ranking points to make it to Tokyo through the quota.
And being an Olympian will give her even more opportunity to drum up support to replace that dilapidated old track that she ran on as a high schooler.