A frustrating feeling was setting within Alex Crocker after a disappointing 10th-place finish in the 400 meters at the Class C state track and field championships earlier this month.
But a half-hour later, the Orono High School junior was the happiest person at Foxcroft Academy after repeating a feat her mother, Christine (Ocana) Crocker, accomplished in her senior year at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln, winning the 300-meter hurdles.
What’s all the more impressive is the younger Crocker was running with plantar faciitis, a painful foot injury.
“It was like a knife stabbing my arch. It was hard because I was worried about the 300s,” said Crocker, whose right foot was injured.
In between races, Crocker sought treatment from an on-site trainer at the meet, and managed to pull out the win in the hurdles, running 48.93.
“She had really struggled in the 400 because of her plantar faciitis, and she literally limped off the track, so I was really concerned about her 300,” Christine Crocker said.
Crocker’s injury popped up in the middle of outdoor track season.
“I have no idea why it started but it just happened,” she said. “It took me off the track training for a long time, so I used the [stationary] bike.”
The main symptom of plantar faciitis, an injury that once plagued UMaine women’s basketball coach Cindy Blodgett when she played for the Black Bears, is pain in the bottom of the foot with swelling and irritation of the thick tissue of the bottom of the foot.
Wearing racing spikes while stricken with plantar faciitis can be more painful than regular training shoes, since they don’t provide as much cushioning and support as the regular shoes do.
“The spikes are really not supportive for plantar faciitis, but I try to keep out of them as much as I can, but once the race started, I just had to forget about it,” Crocker explained.
Crocker’s success in track and field may be traced to her parents, who were track stars in high school and college.
Her mom held school records at Mattanawcook in the hurdles, triple jump and high jump in the mid-1980s while father Dan had Mattanawcook marks in the hurdles and TJ. Both went on to compete at the University of Maine.
While there, Dan Crocker was co-captain of the track team along with Central track coach Mike Viani, Alex’s godfather, while Dan was also a member of a record-setting shuttle hurdle relay team, and set a collegiate state meet record in the triple jump, which he still holds.
The support her parents provided proved to be invaluable for Alex Crocker, also a standout on Orono’s soccer team.
“My parents help me a lot and give me a lot of pointers towards track,” she said, “and they help me a lot and I’m glad I can follow in their footsteps.”
Crocker has been participating in organized track since age 10, and her brother, Brandon, who will be a freshman at Orono in the fall, currently competes on the town’s recreation track team, mentored by high school coach Chris Libby.
That type of program didn’t exist when Dan and Christine Crocker were in high school.
“They have many more opportunities to improve,” Christine Crocker said. “We didn’t have things like that when I was a child. Now they have middle school programs, we didn’t have a middle school program.”
What made Crocker’s victory even more impressive is her right foot is her lead hurdling foot, and it’s the same one that hits the surface of the track initially.
“It definitely hurt a lot, but I just tried to forget about it because I really wanted to win,” she said.
Especially after her subpar performance in the 400.
“It definitely put a damper on things, I definitely wanted to place well in all my events and definitely not getting at least a medal [in the 400] made me mentally say, ‘I can’t believe I did that,’” Crocker said, “but I had to change my state of mind and that’s what the team needed me to do, so I had to.”
The triumph meant just as much to Christine Crocker as it did Alex.
“She’s worked very hard, she’s very dedicated and she really loves track,” she said. “She loves soccer, but she really has a passion for track as well. She really wanted to perform well.”
When Alex decided to take up hurdles, her parents took up a special interest, since the event was their specialty.
“Anytime we saw her practicing or during the competitions warming up, we would tell her what to do, keep the knee up or reach or whatever, snap your trail leg,” Christine Crocker said.
With the exception of an ankle twist while warming up for the Penquis League championships as a senior, Christine Crocker managed to stay healthy as a high school star.
“I didn’t have shin splints or any of that stuff. I was very fortunate,” she said.
Alex Crocker’s practice time with her teammates was limited throughout the final few weeks of the season, with her workouts consisting of a light warmup, maybe some relay handoffs and then riding the bike.
“They definitely push me through workouts, my team’s really supportive and we work together as one, so its hard being locked up in a training room biking alone,” she said.
Crocker elected to skip the New England championships in Connecticut earlier this month, as she sought rest and recovery for her upcoming senior soccer season.
The Red Riots are two-time defending Eastern Maine Class C soccer champions, and Crocker also plays on the Blackbear United 16-under premier squad.