Susannah Scaroni poses for photographs after the Women's 5000m T54 final race at the IPC World Para Athletics Championships 2019 Dubai on Nov. 13, 2019 in Dubai.
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Susannah Scaroni has found herself in a lucky position on the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field Team.
Of all the athletes vying for a spot at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2021, there are only three who have already qualified. Scaroni is one of them, along with her teammates and fellow University of Illinois alums Tatyana McFadden and Daniel Romanchuk.
“If racing does become available this year … I will in the back of my mind know that, regardless of what happens, I’m going to Tokyo, and I think that’s a big pressure relief,” Scaroni said.
Scaroni nabbed her spot in the Tokyo Games after the Chicago Marathon last year. Chicago served as the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Marathon, and the top two male and female athletes who finished in a certain time prior to or at Chicago qualified for Tokyo. Amanda McGrory finished ahead of Scaroni in the Chicago Marathon, but McGrory has not yet achieved the national team’s A Standard. Athletes reach A Standard by exceeding national team times in at least one event.
As athletes will not need to re-qualify for Tokyo, Scaroni can feel secure knowing she is headed to her third Paralympic Games.
With that job done, Scaroni’s next goal is to earn her first Paralympic medal. The racer from Tekoa, Washington, is trying to qualify for all of the track events, a feat she has not yet achieved either.
“This would be a very big difference from the last two Games for me,” she said. “But I’ve worked a lot over the last four years to try and get better at the track. That what’s my goal is right now.”
Scaroni said she feels lucky to be training at the University of Illinois under United States wheelchair track coach Adam Bleakney. Bleakney also coaches the Illinois wheelchair track team and has himself competed in track events at the Paralympic Games. A number of the U.S.’s best wheelchair racers train at Illinois even after graduating from school. Scaroni has worked with Bleakney for nine years, and she knows she is in a good position to succeed.
“Honestly, I have a lot of trust that he’s giving me what we need to do to be ready for (Tokyo).”
Although training on a now-busy college campus during a pandemic can create obstacles, Scaroni is working on increasing her top speed. She’ll spend time fine tuning her acceleration and “basic economy and efficiency.”
“Because on the track, it really comes down to the last 200 meters basically of every race,” she said. “That’s what determines first or third place. So you really got be able to get up to that high speed.”
Based off last year’s world rankings, Scaroni had the fastest time in the world in the women’s T54 marathon at 1 hour, 30 minutes. She ranked fifth in the 800 and third in the 1,500 and 5,000.
Of course, in these events, she trails teammate McFadden. McFadden won gold in the 400, 800, 1,500 and 5,000 and silver in the 100 and marathon at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
Scaroni said it is hard to tell where McFadden or any of her competitors will stand at this time next year.
“I can’t gauge how they are doing right now for how they will be in June,” Scaroni said, referring to next year’s U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Track and Field. “We have a long year.”
Outside of racing, Scaroni is trying to make sure she gets enough sleep and eats right. While the pandemic has created an uncertain schedule, she is glad to have more time at home to cook more meals. Scaroni is currently in grad school at Illinois, training to become a registered dietician.
Scaroni said the pandemic has allowed her to grow on and off the track.
“I would say that I think I’ve developed a lot as an athlete and as a person throughout these five years (between Games),” she said. “I’ve gained so much crucial experience. … I think you can’t underestimate what experience in life can teach you.”