May 28, 2010

By Chuck Murr, Special to NCAA.com

BEREA, Ohio -- Liz Lawton ran the race of her life Thursday - just 18 months after a burst appendix had put her life in jeopardy.

Lawton, from the University of Chicago, easily won the women's 10,000 meters at the NCAA Division III Men's and Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Baldwin-Wallace College.

Holly Ozanich earned her school's fourth consecutive title in the hammer throw to help Wisconsin-Oshkosh lead the women's team standings after one day of the three-day event. The Titans, champions in 2006 and '07, have 21 points, followed by Moravian College with 15 and Chicago and Carroll (Wis.) University at 14 apiece.

The hot and humid day had belonged to the Moravian senior Anna Heim, who won the women's pole vault in a record 13 feet, 6½ inches. Then Lawton stunned the crowd on a considerably cooler evening by lapping three-quarters of the field. "It's just the greatest feeling, so unbelievable," Lawton said a few minutes after crossing the finish line in 34:41.59, a whopping 41.8 seconds ahead of Alicia Freese of Pomona-Pitzer.

Lawton chatted with a few other competitors before reality set in and she began to cry. "My coach is calling my parents in Boston right now," she said. "They won't believe it either."

Lawton entered the race with the 13th-best qualifying time of 36:09.51. "I ran that on a humid day on St. Louis, so I knew I could handle this," she said.

Officials pushed back the start by more than an hour to let temperatures in the upper 80s and the high humidity subside. "I'm eternally grateful for that," Lawton said. "It was a little hot, but good conditions. I felt comfortable all the way through. I like to race at my pace. I was able to do that."

Lawton took the lead on the first lap and steadily stretched it out.

"I felt super," she said. "It's been a long time since I could say that. My appendix burst about a year and a half ago. Then a few other things happened in my life that weren't very good. I wasn't happy, but running kept me going.

"It was all worth it. This is the greatest thing I've ever experienced. I never, ever dreamed of anything like this."

A few hours earlier, Heim didn't mind the heat or humidity and even welcomed a slight headwind. Pole vaulters usually hate headwinds, but Heim breezed to her record-setting performance anyway.

"It was really hot out there all day, and the worst part was standing in the sun and waiting your turn," Heim said. "Usually, any wind is not good for vaulting, but that little breeze was refreshing.

"We all went out to our venues at 11:30 a.m., and it was nearly 4 o'clock when I finished. That's a long day. But for me, it was a very happy day."

Heim, a senior who finished third in 2008 and second a year ago, finally beat her friend and rival Rachel Secrest of North Central College. Secrest, the defending champion, placed second at 13-2 1/2.

"To beat a competitor like Rachel makes me very happy," said Heim, who set a personal best and all-time Division III record of 13-8 1/4 in winning the this year's indoor title.

Heim failed at her attempts at 13-9 after winning the championship. Secrest said she knew she was in trouble when Heim cleared 13-6 1/2.

"My best ever is 13-6, so when Anna went past that, I tried to follow and just missed," Secrest said. Hayley Suckow of Wisconsin-Eau Claire finished third in the pole vault at 12-10 3/4.

Ozanich continued her school's dominance of the hammer throw with a stadium-record 188-4. Christa Youngern of California Lutheran was second at 186-11, followed by Ozanich's teammates, Susie Trezbiatowski (183-0) and Ellie Sitek (177-3).

"It's like we have the national finals every day in practice," Ozanich said. "I learn from Ellie, Susie will beat me and I have to improve. We all put in a lot of hard work, but doing it together makes it fun. It's an honor to beat them today."

Defending women's team champion Wartburg College had the fastest qualifying time in the 4-x-100 relay at 46.22 seconds. Wartburg won a year ago at 46.21 on the way to its second national title. The Knights also won the team title in 2005.