By John Bombatch
CEDARVILLE — While students and media clamored around Grace Norman, Cedarville University track & field standout Carsyn Koch looked on from the side and proudly smiled.
Norman, who is headed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Paralympic Games, was surprised by a few hundred well-wishers at the Stevens Student Center on Monday afternoon at Cedarville University. Koch was on hand to lend her support.
She’ll be on the first-ever U.S. Paralympic Triathlon squad, and she’ll compete in the women’s 400-meter run on the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field team.
The recent Xenia Christian High School grad-turned Cedarville freshman is currently the top-ranked women’s P4 (below-knee amputee) triathlete in the world, having won the world championship earlier this year in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
She is ranked third in the world in the women’s T44-class in the 400 with a time of 1:02.53.
In July, Koch became the first Cedarville University undergrad to qualify to the Olympic Trials. She was deluged with attention and cheers prior to her sendoff to Oregon for the Trials back then, where she placed fifth in her heat of the women’s 800-meter run with a time of 2:05.57. The Yellow Jackets junior will be a teammate with Norman on the 2017 women’s track and field team.
Koch said she didn’t really need to offer Norman any new advice for Rio.
“I think Grace has been exposed to some high-level competition already, but I think that she needs to heed the advice we always give her, and that’s ‘Stay true to yourself. Don’t let the competition change who you are as a person. And overall, have fun,’ because this is an opportunity that she should enjoy and do her best,” Koch said.
Norman thought she was meeting her sister, in order to sign some papers. She didn’t know there’d be a few hundred people around the corner cheering for her instead.
“Yeah, I had no idea,” she said. “I finished a Chemistry Lab, and my sister texted me and said ‘We need to go sign some papers for our car.’ I was like, ‘all right.’ And so she came and got me, and we walked around the building … and I saw everyone. It was just a great experience. To know that they are supporting me, they’re cheering for me and I know they are praying for me, too. It made me very very excited.”
The Rio Paralympic Games will take place Sept. 7-18 at many of the same venues that just recently hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Her triathlon takes place on Sept. 11, and her preliminary round of the women’s 400-meter run is that night with the 400 final set for Monday, Sept. 12.
Koch said Norman plans on red-shirting her freshman year on the Cedarville cross country team, but that she’ll join the Yellow Jackets on the track team when that season starts up. Koch has plenty of confidence in her new teammate.
“She should feel confident in knowing that she deserves to be there in Rio. She does deserve to be there, and she belongs among the top portion of athletes in the world, and we really think that she’s going to do well,” Koch said. “We’ll all be cheering her on.”