An experience of a lifetime: The World University Games in Taipei
A weekly series from the sprinter on balancing sports, school and life
Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.
If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the 2017 World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan, at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400-meter sprinter.
I boarded the 13-hour flight to Taiwan from Vancouver excited but nervous to face what experiences the World University Games had in store or me. I had never been to Taiwan and was only familiar with Taiwanese foods like bubble tea and dumplings. I really had no idea what to expect from this Asian country.
After crossing the Pacific Ocean, I stepped off the plane and made my way to the bus that would take the entire Canadian track and field team to the athletes village. A gust of hot and heavy air stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t know such humidity could exist. I was certainly not in Canada anymore. Lucky for me, I favor hotter climates because my warm-up time gets cut down significantly and my lungs open up easier when I race. Hopefully, this would be the case at this competition.
When I first arrived at the village, I was struck by how many people were already there. The World University Games didn’t officially start for another two days, but there were thousands of athletes already settled, conversing in their native languages, distinguished by their jackets that were engraved with each of their respective country’s name on the back. The cafeteria in the village was essentially where everyone could congregate and interact with one another. There is a tradition in multisport international events where athletes trade pins from their country with one another. I traded with people from foreign countries that I had never been to, such as Sri Lanka and Brazil. It was a wonderful way to break the ice and learn more about another athletes’ culture, which I would normally not get the chance to do back in Canada. Having the opportunity to make friends with athletes from all over the world made me so grateful for choosing a sport like track and field.
During the first few days of my two-week trip, I had to get accustomed to waking up at 5 in the morning to go to the stadium, where I would race the first round of the 400 meters. Fortunately, my roommate was also running the long sprint at this meet, which made the process of waking up early a little less grueling.
It was 4:50 a.m., and my alarm had not yet gone off but I was already awake. I was too eager to wait for my alarm to tell me when to wake up. We arrived at the stadium bright and early, ready to compete. We were the first event of the meet, which felt a bit daunting since we would be the first athletes to compete on the fresh track and be the first to break it in. After my hourlong warm-up, then being held in the call room for another 30 minutes, my heat was ushered to the track. I set myself into my blocks, took a deep breath and let go. Less than a minute later, I made it through the first round and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I lived to fight another day.
I packed my belongings quickly and made my way back to the village knowing that I had to utilize every minute I had before the semifinals and try my best to recover fully.
Unfortunately, the semifinals were the very next day and my legs still felt heavy from racing the 400-meter trials. I tried my best to push through my race and make it into the finals, but I came fourth in my heat and did not qualify for the last round. I still had another event to go, with the 4x400m relay ahead, and I felt more determined than ever to run my best in these upcoming races.
Only two days had passed since the 400-meter semifinals, and I was once again at the track warming up for my race. Except this time it felt different. The crowd was electric. During my 400m rounds, there were barely 100 people in the stands, whereas this night there were thousands cheering so loudly I could barely hear myself think. It was unnerving to realize that I would be competing in front of the largest number of spectators in my life. That is, until I decided to have fun with the crowd. I took a powerful stride down the straightaway and smiled at all of the spectators as I made my way over to the start line.
I was chosen to run the anchor leg, which meant that I held the responsibility of keeping or gaining a better position for my teammates who ran before me and try to cross the finish line first. The semifinal round went by smoothly. I got the baton from my teammate in third and solidified our position by clocking a time that would have us go into the finals with the third-fastest time overall. This meant that we were in the running (no pun intended) for a medal.
The final day of the meet came so quickly. I could barely fathom how I had already run three 400-meter races and had only one more left. We were lined up once again and introduced to the stadium. Once they announced our country, the crowd roared. I felt like my heart was about to leap out of my chest. A few minutes after the introductions, all of the runners were positioned according to their relay legs. I was running anchor once again.
The background music stopped, and there was absolute silence. The start gun went off, and the crowd was up on their feet cheering. Three of my teammates went around the track, indicating that it was now my turn to run. I grabbed the baton from my teammate at the same time as the Mexican team did their exchange, and it became a battle for third place. I sprinted as hard as I could to secure my position. I swerved to the inside of lane one to make it harder on the Mexican anchor leg to pass me on the inside; however, she swung around me to put herself in third place. With 200 meters still to go, I tried to pump my arms and get back our chance at medaling, but I couldn’t find an extra gear.
Realizing my season had come to an end at that moment was bittersweet. I would not have to run another 400m until indoor track season came around, but I didn’t want to end my outdoor season with a fourth-place finish. After walking off the track, I started to put things into perspective and gave myself more credit for finishing a full eight months of running and not giving up even when my hamstring had been bothering me all season long. I came to Taipei to represent Canada with the best of my abilities, and that was exactly what I accomplished.
Participating in the closing ceremonies was a perfect way to officially end my track and field outdoor season. I felt a sense of joy being able to celebrate with my teammates and reflect on the journey that brought us all together on the same world stage. The closing ceremony was a colorful and vibrant showcase of Taiwanese customs. From famous singers to intricately decorated 10-f00t-tall figures, the event was a spectacular display of Taiwanese pride and culture. If training almost all year round and having to bear a few uncomfortable races allowed me the chance to travel around the world and gain priceless experiences, then I look forward to pushing myself beyond my limits and leaving an indelible mark in the world of track and field.
Read Micha’s past diaries here.