Lydia Olivere was a nearly-unstoppable force on Delaware’s cross-country courses during her 4 years at Padua, but a challenge from her college coach has led her to international gold.
Olivere said she was approached by her Villanova Cross Country Coach Gina Procaccio about the idea of competing in an event not on the menu at Delaware high schools.
“She asked, ‘how would you feel about trying the (3,000-meter) steeplechase?’ My face lit up, I was so excited, I said ‘I’ve always wanted to try that, this is so exciting!’ I was so happy she asked, and ever since then I started working with our hurdles coach, did some drills, and ever since then it’s been fun.”
Steeplechase is modeled after the more familiar horse racing event. In the human version, there are 28 barriers and 7 water jumps over the 7 ½ laps of the track.
Olivere, who was used to the elevation changes of many of the best cross-country courses, was about to go up and down in a totally different way.
“I think I just liked how different it was and the dimensions it brought into a track race. I’ve always been one who loved cross country, and I feel like it brings up a bit of the strength and grit of cross-country onto the track. It’s the best of both worlds, in a way. You’re always focused during the race; your mind doesn’t really wander because you have to pay attention.”
After a successful freshman campaign where she finished 2nd in the Big East and 21st at the NCAA East Preliminaries, Lydia was invited to compete in the USATF Under-20 Championships, where a good showing would qualify her for the Pan Am U20’s in Costa Rica.
Remember that part about having to pay attention? Lydia said there was nearly a major, untimely lapse.
“I really quickly was in the lead, and I was leading the race. That was a different position, every steeplechase I’d ever been in I’d been part of a pack following people. I think the combination of leading, being new, and the situation and being super focused on the race because the positions of making an international race on the line, I just kind of zoned out. We passed it, and I saw everyone running next to me, I just thought ‘oh goodness, I can’t believe I just did that.” I was able to luckily turn around and retrace my steps and not be disqualified, which was great. Luckily it was only a lap into the race so I was able to catch up quickly. My coach said ‘you’ll never do that again’, and it’s so true.”
Despite the wrong turn, she won the race just 11 seconds off of her personal best, qualifying her for the international competition.
The Pan Am team met in Mirimar, Florida before going to Costa Rica, and that’s when it hit her something major was about to happen.
“It was crazy, it was something I also thought as a dream to maybe get to do it, but to wear it was crazy. Looking down at my chest and seeing USA I was like ‘oh my gosh.’ That gave me an extra boost going into the race knowing who I was running for, the country. In Mirimar when we were leaving we were given our bag of everything, when he was handing out all the stuff I just couldn’t believe I was getting to wear this.”
Lydia would be sporting the red, white, and blue against a small, but competitive field, including Canadian Grace Fetherstonhaugh.
Walking into San Jose’s Estadio Nacional, Olivere said she had to catch her breath.
“The stadium was great. The announcer was so enthusiastic with his booming voice throughout the stadium. The stadium was gorgeous, there were gorgeous mountains in the background, I just had to take everything in.”
Once on the track, it was a dominating performance.
Lydia set another personal record by finishing in 10:12.16, just under 20 seconds ahead of Fetherstonhaugh, and 36 seconds ahead of fellow-American Megan Worrel, who completed the podium for an emotional medal ceremony.
“Oh my gosh, it was so cool. Especially since one of our head coaches was giving out the medals for our event. Just seeing him put the medals on us, and say congratulations was so cool. Also having my teammate who finished third next to me, and having the Star Spangled Banner play, I told her this is playing for both of us and everyone who has done so well. You see it on TV with the senior athletes, and it was just awesome watching the flag.”
The visit to Costa Rica was a business trip. Unfortunately for Lydia, the US planned their biggest sight-setting trek on the day of her race, but it wasn’t a total loss.
“We were told in the meeting we were there to get business done and win medals for the United States. Before the race, I didn’t get to do too much exploring, which was kind of bummer, but just where we were, it was beautiful and so different, it makes me want to go back. After the race, a few of us distance girls and the coach got to go into the city and explore. We found a nice coffee shop, and that’s what the town is known for.”
Lydia brought that gold medal back to the Delaware High School and Villanova communities, and she said as she wraps up a brief break before ramping up for fall’s cross country season, she’s learned some valuable lessons to help her grow her running game at one of the most prestigious running schools in the country.
"We were given really good stretching routines that I found really helpful. Especially being in college at the next level, your mileage and workout volume increases. It takes a toll on your body, so I found the stretching to be very important. And diet, immediately after workouts was have protein recovery shakes and snacks. I’ve found my hydration has gotten better, and I’ve learned how to really take care of my body more. Refueling has been a big thing. Dealing with little aches and pains, going to the athletic trainer, getting ice bathes, lifting, it’s all the little things adding up.”
As for off the track, Lydia still haven’t officially declared a major, but sounds like she’s got a solid idea in mind.
"I took a human development course in my spring semester. I think taking that and learning the psychology behind human behavior is something I’d be really interested in. I really enjoy patient interaction and building relationships with people. I think this is a field I would be able to do in a hospital or school settings. I really like working with kids, and I know it’s popular working with younger patients, so I’m hoping to shadow some speech therapists at the end of the summer, and maybe it’ll give me a better idea of what I want to do.”
Lydia Olivere also wants to keep chasing those elusive faster times, something many of her contemporaries from Delaware high school running knew all too well.
Not bad for a well-timed suggestion from a coach.