Before deciding on Ithaca College as the place to start her collegiate track career, senior hurdler Amber Edwards was aware that she needed proper training to reach her full potential. Having trained through high school under a coach who specialized in long distance, she was looking for somewhere to properly hone her skills as a hurdler.
“That was one of the main criteria I knew I wanted in a college team when I started looking,” Edwards said. “Ithaca College was definitely the place where I knew I would get the hurdling coaching that I always wanted from the beginning.”
While her brother Xavier Edwards ’16 was not a star athlete, he did run track in high school. Edwards took after her brother and joined the club track team, where she was introduced to hurdling by her coach.
“He pretty much made everyone try it the first time,” Edwards said. “I started to like it. I wasn’t really good at it, but I thought that maybe if I got better training, then I would be setting the goals I would want to achieve later in life.”
She worked throughout high school and was recruited by Ithaca in her junior year.
Head coach Jennifer Potter said she always respected Edwards’ big aspirations and competitive spirit. However, Edwards had some work to do when she first arrived at the college, Potter said.
“We did a lot of form stuff when it comes to hurdling — I’m very meticulous with that,” Potter said. “We actually use this term that we started last year called ‘stay in the hallway.’ She tended to kind of flail a bit, so I said, ‘There’s walls here. Just stay in that hallway because if you throw your arm out, you’re going to hit the wall.’”
Their hard work paid off during Edwards’ junior year when she competed in her first national championship, a feat that took until the last meet of the season to accomplish.
“The top 20 runners in the country go to nationals, and at the time I was somewhere in the high 30s,” she said. “I wasn’t even expecting to go to nationals, so I just went out and ran, but somehow my time that day was good enough to move me up, like, 20 spots, and I ended up qualifying. I was like, ‘Oh snap, I’m going to nationals!’”
During her trials race at nationals, Edwards was struck by the runner next to her, causing her to lose her balance and push over a hurdle, disqualifying her from the race. Potter went through the process to protest her disqualification, and after several hours of waiting, it was decided that she would advance to the final. However, because they were running on a nine-lane track and nine women had already advanced, Edwards would have to run the race in a separate heat by herself.
“I started to panic,” Edwards said. “All night before the race, I had no idea what I was going to do. How do you even prepare for that?”
Edwards met with the sports psychology majors who had accompanied the team to the meet. They calmed her nerves and told her to envision the race as if she was already ahead of everyone else, a feeling she had become used to during conference competition. The strategy worked, as Edwards ran a personal record of 14.45, finished in eighth place and earned All-American honors for the first time in her career.
Sophomore hurdler Brianna Bussiere said she watched the live stream of the event from her kitchen in awe of her teammate’s resilience.
“As a hurdler, I know how important it is to be motivated by the competition and seeing the girl running next to you,” Bussiere said. “I was just so proud of her. I couldn’t imagine being in that position.”
While other athletes may have folded under the pressure, Potter said that a performance like this is exemplary of Edwards’ leadership role on the team.
“To the team, that was like, ‘Wow, you just did that literally all by yourself,’” she said. “It said a lot about the program itself, a lot about Amber, and I think everyone on the team was like, ‘If Amber can do that, then there’s no reason that we can’t do whatever.’”
She carried the momentum from nationals into this season, placing third in the 60-meter hurdle finals at the All-Atlantic Region Track and Field Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships while setting a personal record of 8.86 in the preliminary heat. Edwards’ most recent first-place finish was at the 2018 Navy Spring Invitational in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.75.
Edwards is currently in her last year of eligibility for competition but will be on campus next year as a fifth-year occupational therapy student. While she isn’t sure what the future holds just yet, she is aware of the opportunities to continue her training and compete as an independent participant in outside meets.
“I haven’t decided yet because my program is pretty challenging with academics and athletics, but I still have that drive for track,” she said. “I hadn’t really thought about continuing competing, but I know a lot of people want me to. Since I’m still here in Ithaca for another year, I’ll have access to the track and the hurdles and things like that, so maybe competing unattached for a few meets would be cool.”