Triton Duo Earns Gold at National Finals: Linda Rainwater

    Hurdling is one of the seven track and field events that Rainwater competed in en route to her gold-medal finish and national title. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian)

    Competing in one track and field event at the collegiate
    level is hard enough. Making it to the NCAA Championships and winning a gold
    medal is even harder. Now imagine trying to win that gold medal while having to
    compete in seven different events that cover all aspects of the sport. That is
    exactly what sophomore Linda Rainwater was able to accomplish last weekend on
    her way to UCSD’s first national gold medal in almost two decades.

    Rainwater competes in the heptathlon, a track event that
    spans a two-day period and consists of each athlete earning points in seven
    events that get tallied together, with the highest point total after all events
    earning first place. Day one of the heptathlon sees each participant taking
    part in the 100-meter hurdles, the high jump, the shot put and finish with the
    200-meter sprint. The athletes have only 30 minutes to rest between each event.
    The final day of the heptathlon finishes with the long jump, the javelin and an
    800-meter sprint to cap the competition.

    Although she was able to capture the national title in the
    heptathlon, Rainwater sees it more as a testament to her versatility and range
    as an athlete than to outright domination in any one event.

    “When I do the heptathlon you wouldn’t really think that I’m
    very good because I never really win any of the events, I just kind of get
    second or third in all of them,” she said. “By the end I’ve gotten around
    second in all of them but everybody else got first place in one thing that
    they’re really good at but ninth or tenth in all of the rest.”

    Being a national champion as only a sophomore would seem to
    be more than enough of an accomplishment, but for Rainwater, the bar had been
    set even before she set foot at UCSD. As an incoming freshman, Rainwater made
    it her season goal to set the all-time UCSD heptathlon mark in her very first
    collegiate meet. Those are lofty expectations for some, but not for the very
    talented and highly self-motivated Rainwater. She made her presence felt on the
    college track circuit in the exact way that she had hoped by accomplishing that
    goal, but as the year went on she had to learn to deal with different obstacles
    both on and off the track.

    “Last year was a lot of transitioning between high school
    and college,” Rainwater said. “I was really happy with the season but I still
    had to get used to college, which was a big transition for me. I mean, there
    were no leftovers in the fridge waiting for me when I got home and there was
    nobody to tell me to get eight hours of sleep. I had to learn how to take care
    of myself.”

    Despite presenting a fantastic debut for UCSD, Rainwater did
    not end the year at the national finals, missing the qualifying mark by 10
    points. Always optimistic and resilient, she did not let the disappointing end
    tarnish her rookie season — instead, she used the relative failure to make
    herself realize her need to improve for this season. In her second year with
    the Tritons, Rainwater revamped her training schedule and worked even harder, a
    determination that paid off to the tune of a gold medal and national
    recognition.

    Before becoming a heptathlete, Rainwater competed primarily
    in the long jump and hurdles, two specializations that made her transition to
    the heptathlon successful.

    “It works out to my advantage because high jump and hurdles
    are normally the events that people have the most trouble with,” she said.
    “Those are the two events that are the most technical, so you can’t just wing
    it.”

    Aside from the athleticism needed to even finish the
    heptathlon, staying focused for so many events and two entire days adds a level
    of difficulty unparalleled by any other sport.

    “I feel like a heptathlon is really hard mentally because no
    matter how badly you do in one event you still have to keep going,” Rainwater
    said. “There are two days when you have to stay focused, and that’s really
    tough mentally because if you do bad in an event then you almost want to just
    give in and stop. My coaches have taught me to take each event individually.”

    With a national championship and an all-time school record
    under Rainwater’s belt after only two years, what is possibly left for her to
    accomplish? Aside from wanting to help her team improve upon its best-ever
    fourth place finish at nationals, she can only see one final goal to push
    toward.

    “What motivates me now? I want to try out for the London
    Olympics in 2012. I probably wouldn’t make it but setting my goals that high
    gives me something to go after and in trying to reach that mark I can only keep
    doing great things along the way. I have a feeling that I have what it takes to
    get to the Olympic trials. You never know when somebody would get sick or
    something and a spot opens up for you.”

    With all of the success that Rainwater has had in her short
    career in college competition, and as a person who is never content with
    allowing herself or her team to finish short of their potential, there is no
    reason to think that any goal is out of reach.

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