Making Most of Final Opportunity
June 8, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. -- For six years, Raleigh-native Sandy Roberts has worked hard to put himself in this position.
It took getting a degree from Georgetown, transferring to his hometown school after graduation for his final year of eligibility and then petitioning the NCAA for a medical hardship for a sixth season to be eligible to compete for NC State's track and field program this spring. There were times, as he suffered through two stress fractures and multiple disappointments, even his normally sunny and ebullient outlook became discouraged.
"This is big," said Roberts, as be prepared to leave for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. "There is no better way to finish off my career. It's been a magical season for me.
"I've been up against some demons in my career, but this is the perfect way to cap it all off."
Roberts is one of three Wolfpack seniors who are making their first appearances at the national meet in the final chance of their careers. Fellow distance runner Bobby Moldovan will run with Roberts tonight in the men's 5,000 meters at Drake Stadium. Discus thrower Brittany Hampton has already competed, finishing 20th in her event earlier this week.
For Roberts, the path has been rocky. He thought his career ended last spring, when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back midway through the Wolfpack's outdoor season. Having already used five years of eligibility, he needed four months of paperwork shuffling with the ACC and the NCAA to receive a medical hardship. He found out in February that he would be able to run with the Wolfpack during the outdoor season.
He's made the most of it, posting the best times of his career in the 5,000 meters and earning his first trips to both the NCAA regional and championship meet.
"It's really overwhelming," Roberts said.
For Moldovan, who qualified for the NCAA East Regional his redshirt freshman year but hasn't been back since, advancing to the national meet is similarly special. He was sick for much of his sophomore season and spent most of his junior season training by himself while he did his student teaching at Raleigh's Underwood Elementary School to complete his education degree.
"My sophomore season, mentally and confidence-wise, I just didn't have it," Moldovan said. "I ran out of steam. My junior year, I designed it so I could do my student teaching and have my senior season open. I did all my workouts around my teaching schedule, but I wasn't able to put in all the necessary miles.
"They ended up being a couple of disappointing seasons, but it really motivated me to have a great senior year."
Moldovan had the best time of his career in the 1,500 meters and performed well in the 5,000 meters at the end of the season, finishing fifth in his heat at the NCAA East Region preliminary meet to earn his spot at the championship. Since he only needed one class to graduate, he also worked his training schedule so that he could still spend a few days a volunteering at Underwood.
"It's been the best of all worlds this season, because my running has been going well, I finished school and I still got to spend some time with the kids," said Moldovan, who graduated in early May.
For Hampton, whose senior season has been quite unlike any other in school history, the last 18 months have been a whirlwind, after getting married to husband Nathan Hampton in 2010 and having the couple's first child, Nellie Mae, in December.
She's taken Nellie to every meet she's competed in this spring, including the regional meet in Jacksonville and this weekend's nationals in Des Moines. It's created some hardships, as Hampton has learned to be a parent while she finished her degree in women's and gender studies. Like Moldovan, she earned her degree in May, the day before competing at the Wolfpack Last Chance Qualifier at Paul Derr Track.
"Brittany's story is just amazing, coming back and qualifying for nationals." said veteran head coach Rollie Geiger. "It took an amazing amount of focus for her to do all of her schoolwork, do all of her training and balance her family.
"The majority of athletes would not have returned with 50 percent of the intensity and effort she has shown."
Like Roberts and Moldovan, Hampton made the most of her final opportunity to compete for the Wolfpack.