All smiles for Rainbow track star
THIS was what it was like, being a track star at Hawaii, yesterday, at UH's "Sunrise Meet" at the rainbow track: No collegiate opponents (mainland schools pretty much can't afford to come), no bleachers (parts of Cooke Field are under construction), no people.
No cheering. No fans.
"No national anthem this morning?" someone asked Rainbow Wahine coach Carmyn James, who was running the meet, coaching the kids, making the announcements, manning the mic.
"You wanna sing?" James asked hopefully.
Yes, it was that kind of meet. This is what it's like, being a track star at UH. You can walk across campus without a soul knowing who you are.
"Oh my gosh, yeah!" says junior Annett Wichmann, who was just named Western Athletic Conference women's indoor track athlete of the week for winning the pentathlon at the Washington UW Invitational on Jan. 26. "It's just track! It's not football or volleyball."
And yet, she can't stop smiling. You couldn't wipe the joy from her face. She sports a striking shock of white-blonde hair, but these days her most distinctive feature is her glowing grin.
She could do a toothpaste commercial, this girl.
The sport is fun again, for her. She absolutely loves everything about being a track "star" at UH.
"In general, practice, it's so much more fun here," she says. "All of the girls, we really push each other, but we also have time to laugh. And that's the most important thing."
Well, sometimes, anyway. And you can't argue that for Wichmann, it's working. She's studying to be a sports psychologist. She knows from personal experience how much good it can do.
It was so different, in her native Germany. She was a track star there, too, she'd been identified at age 10, when she won a city youth meet. From there she was on the fast track, in the pipeline, on the program. She was put in "a special school for sports," she says. She won more meets, was an age-group national champ.
Everything was so serious, then, so focused.
Looking back, she realizes now how stressed out she was.
But she was winning.
But then came the day when she got hurt.
It was a bad injury, a back injury. So serious she even wondered if she'd be able to compete in the pentathlon again. That's tough, as a young athlete. But there was an even bigger hurt.
She'd been in the special program, but, "Once you get injured or if there is a year when you do not have improvement ..."
You get your limping papers, get pushed to the side.
It can be a cold, cruel, relentlessly bottom-line business, sports. She felt personally let down.
"It was like a long low," Wichmann says.
But slowly, she built her body back into shape. "Small steps," she says. In Germany it's Olympics or bust, and she'd already been knocked off that track, but Wichmann still wanted to compete. Then, James called.
"I thought, 'I have nothing to lose,' " Wichmann says. " 'I'll go to Hawaii and see what I can do.'
"And it's been the best decision ever that I have made."
She loves it here, the ambiance and the laughter and the sunshine and the teammates and the fun. It was never like this in Germany.
She was never like this in Germany, smiling and laughing and loving everything so.
And it's working. She's climbing the charts, was WAC outdoor heptathlon champ last year (even with hamstring problems that held her back for much of the season), made the NCAAs. She charts what her German counterparts are doing. She hopes to someday make it back to that team. She isn't there yet, still has a long way to go.
But there are days like yesterday. Like the Washington meet, in which the Rainbow Wahine set 17 personal bests.
"Last weekend just worked so well," she says, "then you cannot stop smiling. To know what you've worked for ..."
It's all coming true.
It's tough to be so far away from her family, but they can tell the change in her, too, she says. She couldn't wait to tell them how Hawaii had done at Washington. "I called them and woke them up because it was so early in the morning in Germany!" she says. They were overjoyed anyway.
They could hear the smile in her voice.