HELEN Crofts burned up the track at the NCAA Division II National Championship Saturday as the Simon Fraser University athlete captured first place in the women's indoor 800-metre competition.
The West Vancouver middle-distance runner left competitors chasing her footprints as Crofts notched a time of 2: 05.96 in the final race at the Birmingham, Alabama track meet.
"I was very confident that if things went well and I was feeling good I'd be able to follow-through and hopefully finish where I was ranked," said Crofts, who went into the race ranked tops in the 800-m.
The victory also helped Crofts earn the title of female athlete of the year for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's indoor track and field season. She became just the second athlete in SFU history to win an NCAA title following the school's full acceptance into the U.S. system. Crofts missed being the first NCAA title winner by one day - swimmer Mariya Chekanovych won an NCAA Div. 2 championship race the day before Crofts hit the track for the 800-m final.
The shining hardware comes less than a year after a stress fracture in Crofts' foot sidelined the resilient West Vancouver secondary grad.
Initially unable to put weight on her foot, Crofts began a five-month rehabilitation program, working her way up walking, running, and finally, interval training.
"I just had to be patient," Crofts said. "I also knew that if I didn't take it easy the risk for re-injury was quite high."
Crofts was joined in the 800-m race by North Vancouver's Lindsey Butterworth, who finished eighth in Saturday's final.
Butterworth also recorded a personal best indoor time in Friday's qualifying round.
It was a busy weekend for the North Shore duo, who laced up their track shoes for distance-medley relay on Friday - just two hours after finishing up their respective 800-m heats.
The distance medley consists of four uneven segments in which runners cover 1,200-m, 400m, 800-m, and 1,600-m.
"I was definitely pretty nervous and anxious for the distance medley relay. I ran the mile (1,600-m) which is not typically my race at all," Crofts said.
After a light massage and an attempt to rehydrate, Butterworth led off the relay squad while Crofts prepared to serve as the anchor.
"I knew I'd be racing against some really fast girls so maybe I wasn't quite as confident going into that one as I was in the 800," Crofts said. "Before I got the baton it was very close. We started out a bit behind on the first couple leg but my teammate Michaela (Kane) ran the 800m really well and made up a lot of ground, so I basically got the baton neck and neck with two other teams."
Crofts attempted to keep pace with the eventual winner, but couldn't quite hold the championship pace.
"Coming down the homestretch I just got out-kicked by the girl who was coming up behind."
Trailing the eventual silver medalists by one second, SFU's quartet ran down the bronze medal with a time of 11: 32.35.
Settling into the starting blocks of Saturday's 800-m final, fatigue didn't seem to be a factor for Crofts, who bested her qualifying team by more than four seconds in the championship race.
Just an hour after breaking the tape in the 800-m Crofts took to the track for the 4x400-m relay.
The team finished eighth, earning All-merican status.
Crofts said the performance has boosted her confidence as she prepares for the outdoor season, which is scheduled to kick off March 30 at UBC.