Annie Carey is 14 years old, and she just broke a world record.
Carey competes in the Paralympics, where she jumped 4.49 meters (about 14 feet, 7 inches) in the long jump. The record was 4.12 meters. Carey had no idea how good her jump was.
“(It felt) pretty shocking, almost. It was really exciting because all the hard work I’ve put in paid off in a way that’s super cool,” Carey said. “I found out I got a PR (personal record) and I was pretty excited. Then a guy walked up to me and he was like, ‘Congratulations you just got a world record in the long jump.’ And I was like … that’s so cool. I’m a world record holder.”
Carey broke the T44 long jump record during the Desert Challenge Games held in Arizona this May. She competes in the Paralympics because one of her feet is smaller than the other and she lacks the ability to plant the ball of her left foot.
Carey is about to start her freshman year at Bishop Kelly High School. Instead of taking time off, Carey spends an hour and a half every day at the track. She also lifts weights and has taken up cross country “just for fun,” which also requires hours of training.
Her mind is set on next competing at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships Nottwil, Switzerland, in early August.
At a distance, watching her run, it’s not obvious Carey is physically different. As she sprints, her strides are tight, quickly shooting forward, landing precisely. She is used to people staring at her brace, wondering.
“I’ve definitely accepted stares just because people are curious; it happens to everyone in the Paralympic community,” Carey said. “You just kind of have to live with the fact you will always be looked at.”
EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS IS NO SURPRISE
Carey’s first competition in adaptive sports was at the Desert Challenge Games when she was 7. Her parents remember that was hard in Annie’s athletic career — so hard there was a possibility of her giving it up. She ran the 1,500-meter event (about a mile) in just over 7 minutes. Immediately next was the 400 meter, basically a long-distance sprint, at 10:30 p.m.
The expectation was Carey would be exhausted, and she was, said Geoff Carey, Annie’s father. But she did well.
“Everything matched — her socks, shorts, glasses,” said Sarah Carey, Annie’s mother. She remembers sitting next to one a coach as they watched her picking up speed despite her fatigue.
“At the 200 meters, she keeps going, and now the coach is getting louder, going ‘Oh (crap), oh (crap),’” Sarah Carey said. “David Brown, (one of) the fastest 100-meter men, nicknamed her ‘The Beast.’”
Annie Carey began participating in adaptive sports because she wanted to compete, and to make good friends. She got involved with some help through the Challenged Athletes Foundation, an organization that helps physically challenged people participate in sports. Sometimes this is through grants, other times it’s connecting people with local athletic resources, Travis Ricks, associate director of programs, said.
She received a few grants through the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and Ricks admires her training and competitive mindset. Ricks has known Annie and her family for a few years now and is continuing to watch her progress.
“Annie is amazing,” Ricks said. “She’s a phenomenal athlete … focused and determined. Like any athlete she is just trying to do her best, compete at (her) highest level. For being (so) young, anyone who’s ever been around her just notices how impressive she is.”
To train in the long jump, Carey warms up with skips and sprints. She also practices getting off the board (as she starts running down the runway), her arm positioning, and her jumping and landing form. For sprinting races she practices coming out of the starting block and strategy for speed. Her events are the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
Carey trains with the Idaho Dash Track Club, which she has been a part of for about three years. Rich Elwood, her sprinting coach, is working with Carey on her 200-meter race. Elwood smiles as he remembers Carey texting him, while she was at a Paralympics meet, asking how she could better run the 200. Her goal is to get her time down to under 29 seconds, closer to 28 seconds.
“I wrote up a script for her. It’s not an all-out run which is what she’s always done,” Elwood said. “‘This section of the race acts like this and this section feels like this,’ it’s changing the way she’s thinking about the race … and now she’s making the gains, which means, in a way, she was kind of topped out the way she was doing it.”
When Elwood first met Carey, he remembers she was lifting in the gym. He noticed she was squatting in a way he felt was wrong, so he was moved to give her some advice. Carey thanked him and said she would work on that. She was working on his form advice as he was walking away.
Once Elwood had walked away, one of the other coaches told him about Carey’s leg.
“I said, ‘You’re kidding me,’” Elwood said. He had no idea because Carey didn’t say anything and just took his advice. “What I found amazing was she didn’t use that as an excuse. … It amazes me what she can do with a brace that keeps her foot in one position.”
Carey’s left leg is known as a “drop foot,” as Elwood described. She can’t plant the ball of her left foot. The brace keeps her foot at a 90-degree angle. When he found out Elwood apologized to Carey, and made blocks for her to to keep her knees in the correct position when she lifts and squats.
Carey and her family appreciate the attention and training the Idaho Dash Track Club coaches have given. Carey said they always take time to help her with her form, offering advice and critique.
“They don’t treat her like she’s disabled,” Sarah Carey said.
“They train her for real,” Geoff Carey added. “They showed her what she’s supposed to do … how to prepare her mind, warm up … she’s an expert at that stuff.”
Carey’s parents are excited for her upcoming competition in Switzerland and optimistic about her future success. They often accompany her to the Desert Challenge Games, the Angel City Games in Los Angeles, and other events, sometimes volunteering too.
With the optimism always comes a dose of realism. They both remind Annie of the work she will have to put in to continue her accomplishments.
“She’s scary, (with) her drive,” Sarah Carey said. “If you’re driven and work hard, there’s a lot of opportunity for you.”
Carey has taken her mother’s advice to heart and offers it to other athletes.
“If you really want to reach a certain point you really have to put in all the effort, time patience to get better and at some point you will reach the goal,” she said. “Try to keep working hard.”
When Annie Carey was asked if she ever thought her disability would hold her back, she responded with a yes.
“Mostly just because of the stares,” Carey said. “And having to put on a brace every day to walk, having to find shoes that fit it because I have two different size feet.”
Normal doctor visits include getting “casted” (fitted) for her leg every time she wants a new brace. Shoe shopping is also a constant reminder she is physically different. For Carey, it feels like a lot to go through.
Her brace looks like a prosthetic, but it’s not. Sarah Carey added since Annie performed and still performs well, people now look at her brace and wonder, basically, how the brace helps her. Both she and Annie find themselves explaining the situation to others. As Annie Carey said she has accepted this is part of her life.
“When people just stare they’re curious but they’re staring and it makes me feel like ‘Oh, yeah, I know I’m disabled’ … being reminded a plastic brace is on my leg,” Annie Carey said. She wants to be known as “someone who puts in all the hard work, shows determination, is confident in what she does and is always open to doing new things and meeting new people.”
With breaking the T44 long jump world record, Carey said she is seeing her hard work pay off. She hopes to break that record, her record, again in the future.
Joining the USA team of about 20 select athletes to a junior worlds competition is another indicator of Carey’s training ethic. To qualify, she has to be fast in the 100 and 200 races.
“We’ve all told her, she makes the Olympics that she wants to go to we’re all there,” Elwood said. “And I can see her doing it. She’s not just a girl (who’s) out there trying to run track. She has talent.
“Personally I’m a fan of hers,” Elwood continued. “There’s no question she’s gonna go places. I either want to tag along or at least be invited to come along. She’s an amazing kid, even without the disability. I don’t think it’s a challenge, I think it’s just an obstacle put there and she’ll take care of it.”