Duane Bonifer/Lindsey Wilson College
Nelson County graduate NicoleFurnish (left) is one of the topcollege racewalkers in thecountry. The Lindsey WilsonCollege senior is a three-timeNAIA All-American.
An unlikely All-American
NC product one of the top racewalkers in the country
By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 12:33 pmMost college All-Americans reveal themselves early on, their precociousness a strong indicator of great things to come. Others are latebloomers.Then there’s three-time NAIA All-American racewalker Nicole Furnish, who was introduced to her discipline just four years ago and now has her sights set on qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials.“Sometimes you find your niche without realizing it,” said Furnish, a Lindsey Wilson College senior.“I just wanted to improve on my running time. It was never about being an All-American.”By her own admission, Furnish was an average runner during her days at Nelson County HighSchool. After graduating in 2007, she headed south to Lindsey Wilson College and will graduate inDecember with a degree in middle grades education.“Nicole started out with us as a student who was just interested in participating,” Blue Raider trackand cross country coach Edwin Hagans said. “She’s changed quite a bit.”Furnish walked on to the Blue Raider cross country team in the fall of her freshman year, and wasable to make some improvements upon her high school times. But that wasn’t enough.She approached Hagans and asked him what she could do to help out the team, and he suggestedshe try racewalking, an Olympic sport that maintains an underground status largely in part becauseit’s not something you’ll find on the heat sheet at your high school meets, let alone at the NCAAlevel. It’s a growing sport at the NAIA level, but still flies under the radar.“I was kind of excited to try something new,” Furnish said, so Hagans had her watch teammate Amanda Johnson work out on thetreadmill and study Johnson’s technique.“If you watch it (for the first time), it’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen, especially for guys” because of hip gyrations that don’t comenatural for males, she said. “We call it ‘glorified waddling.’”In running, Hagans said, there are really no strict rules as far as technique goes. Racewalkers, on the other hand, have two.“You must maintain visible contact with the (racing) surface at all times,” he said. And, “at the point of contact, you must have a straightleg until it passes your center of gravity.”Sounds simple enough, but break either of those rules and you’re disqualified, same as you would be if you have a false start or driftoutside of your lane if you were a sprinter.“It kind of looks like straight-leg marching, but at a fast pace,” Furnish said.Her first few timed races, Hagans said, Furnish clocked in at 20-plus minutes for a 3K distance — close to her cross country runningtimes at that distance. By the end of her freshman season, however, the improvement was dramatic, and Furnish missed qualifying for the NAIA indoor nationals by just 20 seconds, leading Hagans to make the “easy call” and award her a scholarship.“Colleges have a knack for taking the rough material high school coaches are able to uncover and polish it,” said Dan Bradley, Furnish’scoach at Nelson County.Furnish arrived in a big way her sophomore indoor season, qualifying for nationals with a 17:18 time, then shattering her personal best atthe national meet with a fourth-place finish, a 15:58 time and the first of her All-American honors.“It really fueled the flame for her internally,” Hagans said. “It’s an incredible thing.”Bradley said Furnish’s arc of improvement was surprising from a physical standpoint, noting that she looks nothing like the runner of her high school days.“When she went to college, her focus on athletics has totally transformed her body,” he said. “Mentally, it’s not a surprise though. Nicolehas always been a very determined young lady,” which is also reflected in her schoolwork, where she’s a four-time academicall-conference honoree.She finished her sophomore outdoor track season with a seventh-place finish at nationals, then exploded during her junior year,
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