By John Goralaski
Alyssa Lombardi seemed unfazed by the torrential rains that deluged the track at Willowbrook Park in New Britain on Tuesday, June 11. Lightning blazed across the sky. Thunder echoed under the bleachers as athletes huddled with their coaches and parents between waterfalls and puddles.
For almost three hours, Lombardi stretched out on the ground waiting…thinking…and calculating her scores on her cell phone. It didn’t look good for the Southington star, but winning the heptathlon isn’t the main goal at the annual event.
“I just want to finish and do what I can,” she said after two events. “If I get to the second day that’s great, but it really doesn’t matter. I’m just trying to do my best.”
It’s only open to the best of the best, and hopefuls need to submit state qualifying times and distances in every event just to be considered. Then, it becomes a whole other challenge just to survive until the first event as mounting injuries, fatigue, and high school finals scratch entrants in the days leading up to the event.
“She was in good spirits afterwards because she knows that she did something that nobody else on the team did. I’m so proud of her because there were only about 90 girls in the state that were able to do it,” said Lady Knight track coach Annie Groom. “We had a couple of boys that were hoping to do the decathlon, but they decided not to because they were so tired. That’s certainly understandable, but she made the commitment, wanted to do it, and wanted to see what she could do.”
Southington has had its share of athletes compete in the annual event which features the boys decathlon, the girls heptathlon, the steeple chase, and hammer throws. It’s the only time that these events are offered, and the two-day event unfolds like a festival.
Southington hasn’t sent anybody since 2011. Two boys competed in the decathlon in 2010 and 2011. Nobody has attempted the hammer throw in recent years, but Holland Florian scored a top 10 finish in the steeple chase in 2009. Nobody has advanced to the second day in either of the signature events since Matt Berube set a school record in the decathlon (5,538) and Lauren Bauchiero set the school mark in the heptathlon (3,033) in 2008.
In fact, no Southington girl has qualified for the heptathlon in five years.
“She wanted to do it, and she’s the perfect athlete for it,” said Groom. “You can’t just put somebody into the heptathlon. They have to post qualifying times and you have to prove that they can compete. You can’t just take and athlete and say, ‘Let’s go out and have fun.’ The heptathlon isn’t something that you ‘try’ to do. You have to prove you can do it.”
The rest is just icing on the cake.
As a jumper, a mid-distance runner, and a distance runner Lombardi was best suited for the second day of competition when athletes compete in the long jump, the javelin, and the 800m, so the challenge was Day One. Lombardi posted a slower time in the 100m hurdles (21.01 seconds) but followed that up with a decent showing in the high jump (1.33 meters). Still, she found herself trailing in the standings when the skies opened with torrential rains.
That left Lombardi trying to calculate her chances. The top 32 scorers advance, along with anybody that scored at least 1,850 points. Lombardi would have to dominate in her final two events to have a shot at the second day.
“This was one of the most competitive years that they’ve had, and I think that she would have probably made the top 32 on most years,” said Groom. “Day two had her best events, but there’s not a thing you can do about it. We just wanted her to do her best on day one and hope that she made it. There weren’t a lot of mid-distance or distance runners like her. There were a lot of jumpers and hurdlers, and the first day was their advantage.”
When competition resumed, Lombardi did her best to close the gap. She cleared 5.77 meters (18’11.75”) in the shot put, and it became clear that it would take a miracle to earn a bid for day two. A handful of girls dropped out of competition during the rain, but Lombardi battled to the end.
At 9:15 p.m. she lined up for her final event—the 200m. Lombardi finished in 28.62 seconds to claim 583 points, but she fell short of the cut-off.
“It was cool,” Lombardi said. “I didn’t know that so many people could be so good at every single event. I would have thought that some people would struggle at some things and be better at other events, but they all seem to be so good at everything.”
The competition marked the end of Lombardi’s high school career. Next, she’ll take on the challenge of being a three-sport athlete at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Groom said that the heptathlon proves that she’s ready for the challenge.
“It’s amazing what you can bring out of yourself even when you feel like you’re defeated,” said the coach. “I love how she came back and ran that last event with such an incredible time. It showed what she’s made of. You can’t always calculate that with the numbers on the paper. I couldn’t have asked for better representation for our town and our program.”