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Alex Bellavance: Race Walking into Tokyo 2020

Race walking is a sport few people know too much about, but it's actually contested at all levels of track and field, from youth athletics to the Olympic games. Although technically a foot race like it's running event counterparts, it differs in that a competitor must have at least one foot on the ground at all times.

Our rabbitELITE team is happy to have first year member Alex Bellavance on the squad. We recently asked him to tell us a little more about his history with the sport of race walking and how he got to where he is today - we think even runners can get a little motivation from Alex's story!

We all have dreams, big and small; however, sometimes our lives are destined for more than we could ever hope, or imagine.

My athletic career started in the beginning of high school as a cross-country runner whose ultimate desire was to stay fit and make friends. Upon joining cross-country, I was unaware that the team raced at meets throughout the season. In my eyes, I thought that the team only met for a few hours each day and that was the end of it. After a short time period, the aspect of competition was introduced to me as the only way I could remain on the team was to compete. In an effort to continue my desire of running for the social aspects, I respected the decisions of my high school coaches to compete. Every race was treated as just another easy training session, jogging in the back.

A new desire was implanted in my heart my second year, after watching my teammates receive medals the previous year. Who doesn't want a shiny piece of medal around their neck? With a change in motivation, I transitioned from an average junior varsity finisher, to a competitive varsity runner on one of the best teams in my high school's history. By senior year, I was one of the top runners on my team, in the conference and city. Let’s just say, receiving a medal was no longer a problem. 

Unlike running cross- country, running track was a dreadful sport for me. Coaches pointed me out to be a 3200-meter runner and the thought of doing 8 laps on the track sounded as boring as can be. There was no spark of motivation until my junior year of high school when I was told I couldn’t even make it past our conference preliminaries. As a 4:53 1600 meter runner at the time, it is easy to see why others lacked the confidence in me. However, it was that lack of confidence that flipped the switch in my brain - it was time to put in an all out effort. In two weeks time, I broke my personal best by 22 seconds (4:31) and had made it three meets further than what I originally expected of myself.

Going into my senior year of high school, my goals for track had changed tremendously. Two of my biggest goals were to achieve a school record and to run at the California state meet. Being that the majority of my athletic goals had been fulfilled so far, I was unable to envision failure in these goals. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, these goals started to shift.

Due to a number of conflicts, the last semester of my senior year in high school was to be spent in Tennessee, over 2,000 miles away from San Diego, California where I grew up. I was devastated that my dreams of becoming an El Capitan school record holder were crushed. Trying to stay as optimistic as possible, my family urged me to run a last season with a team in Tennessee. My new high school had only a small track team and did not have a distance coach, or many runners at my level. On top of that, we had to take a 30-minute bus ride from school to the nearest track to train each day. With the small bit of motivation I had left, I coached myself and another individual on my team.

Week after week, I would come out on top in races, often lapping a majority of the field. To put it into comparison, in San Diego, I was ranked 20th in the city; In Tennessee I was ranked 3rd in the state. However, I no longer had the same happiness that I had as a California runner. This season awakened my love for track and field, with an urge to find that drive and happiness again.

After declining multiple athletic scholarships, I decided to pursue my education and athletic career as a walk-on runner at Cuyamaca College, a 2-year institution in San Diego. It took myself an entire season until I got back into the shape I was in before I left San Diego, and by that time, it felt too late.

On a chilly November evening, Coach Tim Seaman (2-Time Olympic race walker), invited the cross-country team to the track. We were given the instructions to give our best impression of what we thought good race walking technique looks like. We all messed around jokingly while we tried it out, but Coach Tim’s race walker athletes found my form to be peculiarly good. After warming up a bit, we were informed that we would be partaking in a 400-meter time trial. 

Those were the most brutal 400-meters of my life. My shins, hamstrings, and glutes were on fire. However, impressed with my performance, Coach Tim and the rest of his race walking team approached me afterward. The words that came out of his mouth next would change my life.

“How would you like the chance of trying to make an Olympic team one day?”

From that moment, I transferred all of my athletic endeavors from running to race walking.

In my first year as a race walker, the event carried endless new challenges including, but not limited to, injuries, financial struggles, and learning new rules. But with every mountain, there is a view.

That year I made two USA teams. The first trip was to Rome, Italy, where I competed at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships. The second trip was to Edmonton, Canada, in a dual-match against Canada’s national team. 

On top of that, I was able to compete at the USATF Junior Outdoor Championships where I placed 3rd in the 10km Race Walk.

In 2017, I moved up in my age group from juniors to open. As a result, I knew it would be difficult to match my first year success, especially since open division athletes race 20km at the elite level, twice as far as the juniors.

Despite the major changes, I was able to compete at the USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, California, where I was able to finish 5th on both occasions.

On the road ahead, some of my many goals include making Team USA twice in 2018, having a podium finish at the 2020 Olympic Trials, and ultimately becoming an Olympian.  

They say that if you shoot for the moon, you’re bound to land on a star. After examining my athletic career this far, I urge you to shoot for the stars, but don’t be afraid when your arrow continues through the star and straight to the moon.

- Alex Bellavance, rabbitELITE

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