When FPC track and field runner Namiah Simpson falls, she does the only thing she knows how to: She gets back up.
Namiah Simpson just wanted to try something new.
In her junior year, Simpson, already a member of Flagler Palm Coast's girls track and field team, opted to compete in the 300-meter hurdles for the 2016-17 season. She worked hard. Her coach, David Halliday, said Simpson, a natural long distance sprinter, had a knack for the event.
“I thought she had a real shot at qualifying for the state meet,” Halliday said.
Her shot came at the Class 4A Region 1 meet for the 300-meter hurdle. Simpson qualified for the regional final in the event with a 45.72-second showing in the preliminaries.
She burst out of the block with confidence. She sped down the track at FPC High School, in complete sync, in perfect stride with some of the top hurdlers in the state. She leaped over her first hurdle without a hitch.
Then came the second hurdle.
She got to it too soon. The leg she usually goes over the hurdle with wasn’t there yet. Her once perfect rhythm was thrown out of
“She has outrun me already, which is good because I always want my kids to do better than me. She has a heart for track.”
Angela Simpson, Namiah's mother
whack. She clipped the hurdle with her trailing leg and hit the ground — hard.
She got up, scratched and bruised, with thin streaks of blood dripping down her carved, hardened calves, and she continued to run. But then another hurdle sprang up too soon. She fell once more. Her parents, her sisters and other family members were in attendance.
“My heart just stopped,” said Namiah’s mother, Angela Simpson. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Namiah had 50 meters to go on the home stretch.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The Simpsons have running in their blood.
Namiah’s younger sister, Jada Simpson, is currently a sophomore for the Bulldogs’ track team. Angela Simpson and her sister, Donna Brown, ran track in high school in their hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. Brown went on to run in college for Morgan State.
It was Brown who trained Namiah when she decided to run track after graduating middle school. While other kids in the area got a jump on their summer vacations, she trained nearly every day prior to enrolling at FPC.
Training left her tired and aching, and as she desperately sucked at the air around her for oxygen, Namiah would think to herself, “Why am I doing this again?”
But Brown was right there, ready to encourage her niece.
“She would just encourage me to keep going, to keep trying and to not give up,” Namiah said. “And that’s what I do. I don’t give up.”
Fast forward nearly four years. The training is a little different: It’s more intense, longer, faster. But she’s faster, too. And the aches and pains? Not nearly enough to steer her away from the sport.
“She has outrun me already, which is good because I always want my kids to do better than me,” Angela Simpson said. “She has a heart for track.”
Even now, nearly a year later, Namiah still replays the moment over and over in her head — and in a video recording on her phone.
“Sometimes, I put it in slow motion. I zoom in,” Namiah, now a senior with the Bulldogs, said. “I watch everyone finish the race, and there I am on the ground.”
But what the recording doesn’t show, is what she does next: She contemplates leaving the track, quitting the race.
With her legs bloody, Namiah stands up. She can’t feel the pain yet. It hasn’t hit her. She’s still in shock. But she can feel the shame, the humiliation. She starts to walk off the track. She’s done. No more, she tells herself. Her chance at running in the state meet, her goal for the 2017 season, has evaporated. What’s the point of finishing? After all her hard work throughout the year, she screams inside her head, “Why me?”
“There was a lesson in that,” Namiah recalls today. “It’s kind of like life: It’s going to knock you down, but you can’t let it keep you down.”
She didn’t walk off. She kept running.
She finished in last place, but she finished.
One person who was watching closely was her coach — because he knew the rest of the team was watching.
“She’s got the heart of a champion,” said Halliday, who also added that the 2018 girls team may be his best girls team ever. “I always tell my kids to learn from their mistakes. If you learn from messing up, you didn’t fail.”
Although the scratches and bruises have faded and the blood has dried up, the memory — the internal turmoil of falling short of glory — persists for Namiah. But after that conclusion to her 2017 season, she’s ready for anything in 2018.
“For me, it’s always about getting back up,” she said. “That’s how I look at it now.”