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Virginia native athlete seeks redemption for Olympics

Carmen Graves
Carmen Graves(Carmen Graves via WDBJ)
Published: Jun. 5, 2021 at 1:33 PM EDT
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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - A woman originally from Christiansburg is just one step from making it all the way to the Olympics. She played soccer and ran track in high school, then continued to run at Roanoke College, but didn’t reach Olympic speeds until now.

Now at age 30, Carmen Graves sits next to her husband and running coach Sean Stetler, and says she’d have it no other way.

“He believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself,” Graves said.

The last time she made it this far, she walked a fine line of being very fit and injured with plantar fasciitis – making it painful to even walk.

“I went into the trials with an injury, which wasn’t ideal,” Graves said. “I wanted to do it anyway. It wasn’t the moment I had hoped it would be. This year is definitely different.”

Graves runs the steeplechase event, loaded with barriers that don’t move when touched and have water to jump over each lap. The water got her on last week’s qualifying race to get her to this point, and although she fell, she still qualified for the Olympic trials.

“It was great to see her overcome so much over the past few years, and right when she looked like she was going to crush it, she falls. I kind of panicked, but she popped right back up and sprinted through to the finish. It was a huge success,” Stetler said.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, Graves would likely not be here.

“For me, it was actually a blessing, because I really wasn’t in a good place with training and it kind of gave me a whole extra year to get in that place,” she said.

Graves’ training isn’t full-time. The couple coaches track together in Colorado after a full day of teaching in school. It’s after all that when she trains.

“Sometimes when you are doing other things and living your life, really great stuff can still happen,” Stetler said.

Graves’ next race is June 20. If she qualifies again then, finals are June 24 in Oregon before going to the Olympics.

“I used to get super nervous for these things and now I’m just like, if I have it I have it, if I don’t, I don’t,” Graves said. “It’s all about the experience. I’m just excited.”

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