Jumping hurdles is what homegrown talent Alycia Butterworth has done to run the 3000m steeplechase at the 2020 Olympics in Japan. (Photo: supplied A. Butterworth)

Jumping hurdles is what homegrown talent Alycia Butterworth has done to run the 3000m steeplechase at the 2020 Olympics in Japan. (Photo: supplied A. Butterworth)

Northwest B.C. runner jumps hurdles to make the 2020 Olympics

Prince Rupert’s Alycia Butterworth, Hazelton’s Regan Yee to represent Canada this July

Prince Rupert talent Alycia Butterworth is running toward the 3,000 metre steeplechase at the 2020 Olympics being held in Japan from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.

Northern British Columbia residents will want to pay attention as Highway 16 communities are well represented at the quadrennial games with Butterworth’s running partner being Regan Yee from Hazleton. More than 11,090 athletes will be competing in 339 events at the elite intercontinental games.

Amid the unprecedented global pandemic, the international games were originally planned for the summer of 2020, and were held over until 2021. Despite the date change, the Olympics will still be known as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a goal of mine, since at least high school. I’m just really thrilled to be able to represent Canada on the world stage,” Butterworth said.

“I think I started running when I was nine. I started running in Prince Rupert and fell in love with it,” she said.

The top-notch athlete told Black Press Media in a one-on-one interview, her love of running started with completing the Terry Fox run at Conrad Elementary School, and she ventured forward to school track meets, and cannery races, Crest road races and Rotary road races with her family.

The 29-year-old runner and Team Canada member who gained a place on the prestigious athletic team missed out on the 2016 games due to injury, got her start running in Prince Rupert as a youngster at Conrad Elementary school.

“It’s been quite a journey, progress isn’t always linear,” she said. “I had a few rough years of training with injuries and to be able to have my fitness come together at the right time and be able to stay healthy … so that I can have the opportunity to represent Canada is just really awesome.”

Butterworth said timing is a huge component to the success of an athlete’s career as so many little things can wrong and to reach the Olympic standard everything needs to go right.

“The year 2016 was a breakout year for me. I went into that season, not having the Olympics on my mind. I ended up running a massive, massive, personal bests and putting myself in contention to make the Olympics. Suddenly, I was just significantly faster and fitter than I had ever been before and the Olympics became a possibility.

There were four qualifying athletes that year chasing for only three spots on the Olympic team in Butterworth’s category. Two weeks out from the final trial she injured her foot and ankle. Still determined to try after not running at all for two weeks, not able to run for a warm-up having her ankle taped up, seconds before the qualifying race she said she frantically ripped off the tape, popped a couple of ibuprofen and tried.

“I just didn’t have the sharpness or my body couldn’t hack it. It was a hard pill to swallow,” she said. “But, at the same time, that was the year catapulted me into the position where I [realized] I can start making these teams. I used it as fuel to make the Canadian teams.”

Butterworth who now trains six days a week, recovered from her injuries and went on to represent Canada at the World Games in 2017.

The Butterworth family moved to the Vancouver area when Alycia was 13 and she became more exposed to large running clubs and athletic associations. Butterworth gained a running scholarship to a university in Idaho where she studied to become a data scientist, a job at which she works today, when not running.

She said there are highs and lows of a running career, and having a balanced life with other hobbies helps to assist with rough periods of injury.

“It just means putting in the work, day after day whether it’s on a bike, or in a pool or running, ” the athlete said. “I just keep enjoying the process and trusting that I could eventually get the cocktail right of how much running mileage to do, how many physio appointments, how much cross-training should supplement.”

When the team arrives in Japan, they will be housed in a training camp in Gifu after having rapid COVID-19 tests. The athletic teams will not be allowed to go anywhere or to interact with the local citizens.

“It’s very confined just to keep the Japanese public safe to make sure we do stay in this bubble. When we do get to Tokyo, it’s the same thing. You’re not allowed to leave the athlete village at all unless you’re going to a venue to compete or train and it has to be in authorized shuttles.”

There will be 42 competition venues divided into two main zones. The Olympic Village will be situated at the intersection of both, keeping the majority of the venues within an 8 km distance.

Butterworth said there will be no audience spectators at the games and it “will not be a normal Olympic experience, that’s for sure.”

“It is a bit of a bummer to not have the full experience. I know my parents, obviously have been looking forward to this for such a long time. They are really upset,” she said. But otherwise, it’s so exciting to be able to go there and represent Canada, regardless of whether the stands are going to be full or just have a few Japanese citizens clapping because they’re not allowed to cheer verbally due to the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.”

Butterworth said the long-distance event of 3,000 m steeplechase has five hurdles or barriers per lap to for runners to make it over, with one having a sloped water pit after it. Runners need to jump as far out as they are able to land in as shallow water as they can or miss the pit.

“I’m definitely going in as one of the more underdog positions in terms of ranking, but my goal is still to try as hard as I can to make the finals and see what I can do. I have the opportunity to go in there and run my best races. I think that I set new personal bests this year …”

Looking forward to the future, Butterworth said she is excited for the World Championships in Oregon next year, and of course, the next Olympics which is just three years away.

“At this point, I usually reevaluate every year to make sure it’s still what I want to do and that I want to keep putting in the work right now. I definitely have my sights set on trying to make another Olympic team.”

Speaking about the goals of her future, Butterworth had a special message for young runners in her hometown where she got off on the right foot.

“I think that it’s just important to have fun with the sport that you’re doing and have fun with your training in all aspects. When you’re young, it’s really important to have lived a pretty well-rounded life and to do multiple sports, especially if you’re still in high school or earlier.”

“Being a multi-sport athlete is really helpful to development, and just to keep you kind of loving sports in general. Remember that progression isn’t always linear, so sometimes, you might have a year or two where you’re not getting better, seeing faster times, and that’s okay. Try to have fun with it and some of the training. Just keep working and the results will come.”


K-J Millar | Journalist
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