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Associated Alumni

Standing on her own

Grace Annear

Walking out onto the Canadian Olympic trial race track in Edmonton in July, Grace Annear was the strongest version of herself. The Hampton, N.B., native dreamed of wearing the maple leaf in Rio. Despite not making the national team, her performance was a far cry from her complete retirement only 18 months earlier.

Annear, a 2017 master of arts candidate at UNB Fredericton, holds the New Brunswick record for the 600-metre and 800-metre races and captured the Canadian Interuniversity Sport 600-metre silver medal twice. The 12-time all-Canadian has contended on the proathletics scene since 2012 and attended the University of Victoria to fuel her love of running.

“In Victoria, the team attended month-long high altitude training camps,” she says. “Our bodies were mended and cared for by the most talented practitioners in the country, and our training programs were designed and run by former Olympians and Olympic team coaches. We had it really good.”

The glamorous life and homesickness soon wore on Annear’s body. A muscle in her hip tore through, discs herniated into her spinal cord, and her doctor believed she had a stress fracture in one of her vertebrae from the intense training and stress.

“Poked and prodded on a physio table, I finally became exhausted from fighting,” she says.

Annear knew what her body was trying to tell her: she needed to go home. She flung her running shoes in a dumpster before coming back to New Brunswick in 2015 to attend UNB. But try as she might to stay retired, she realized she wanted to pick up the sport again.

“Before I even started thinking about running again, the characters in the stories I write all started wanting second chances at things they’d abandoned. I think subconsciously I knew track wasn’t over, but I did need something big to help me return.”

Annear did start running again and, despite being away from track for just a year, she found it hard to run for one minute and walk for four. On a whim, she contacted a local club coach to ask what would happen if she wanted to race again.

Back on track

Annear wasn’t quite sure what she wanted for the future, but she found the support from the people of Fredericton allowed her to dream big once again. She contacted UNB’s track and field team head coach Jason Reindl about joining the team. While the University of Victoria offered world-class facilities, it was the people at UNB who helped Annear to progress and improve.

“I felt lifted by the sense of community,” she says. “In my previous life in Victoria, I had always expected to be told what to do, how to train, and more grievously, be told where my limits are. But the thing is, no one can run a race for you.”

Annear went into the 2016 CIS 600-metre final ranked first and came out with a silver medal. While some would consider it a disappointment, Grace was elated; just months earlier she was retired from professional racing. And her new goal became clear: make the Canadian Olympic track team.

With each race in the 2016 season, she dropped closer to the Olympic time standards. At her final meet before the trials, she missed the standard by 1.53 seconds.

“In my Victoria time, to have such a close failure would have done me in, but after the months of confidence instilled in me by my new life in Fredericton, I was able to shake it off,” she says.

At Olympic trials, she breezed through qualifications and made it to the finals of the 800-metre race.

“I knew I had made it to exactly where I was supposed to be.”

Annear finished seventh, missing the time standard and not finishing in the top three necessary to make the cut, but she considers it her greatest accomplishment.

“This is not a story about heartbreak. The accomplishment was never going to be about winning. I went from a place of doubt to a place of shining belief. And I have become a woman with a vast community that taught me to stand on my own and to trust the voice inside of me.”

Grace Annear was the guest speaker at the Associated Alumnae’s semi-annual general meeting on Nov. 28.

Back to Alumni News Direct - January 2017