Stevens seeks Olympic encore

Freedom will be waiting for Robyn Stevens at the finish line at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Saturday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The 20-kilometer race walk could very be the last for the 2001 Vacaville High graduate. All she has to do to prevent that and qualify for the Paris Olympics is walk the fastest race of her life.

Whether the end comes Saturday or five weeks from now in Paris, Stevens will at last be free from having to survive on prize money. She will never again have to battle the race walkers who have a say in setting the rules and can manipulate them as Stevens claims they did to make it nearly impossible for her to qualify.

Robyn Stevens will need to produce the fastest race of her life to make it o Paris.

Finishing in the top three Saturday will not be enough for the 41-year-old who in 2021 was the oldest female race walker to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. The 2024 qualifying time as set by the International Olympic Committee is 1:29.20. Stevens set her personal best of 1:32.15 two years ago in the Czech Republic.

Stevens did not give much thought to making it to Paris after coming home from Tokyo. “I really didn’t care,” she said. “Tokyo was beyond my wildest dreams. I  knew inside me there was an Olympian. I brought my Olympic dream to fruition. I checked that off my list. I can say I did it. I had the perfect ending.”

Achieving her dream left Stevens with little motivation to continue training at a level necessary to be an elite athlete. She needed a new goal and set her sights on the U.S. record of 1:30.49 with the guidance of her coach, Jacinto Garzon of Spain. Garzon prepared Stevens for the 2021 Olympics without ever having met her face to face.

That first meeting came in Tokyo. Stevens did not come close to earning a medal, finishing 33rd in a field of 58 walkers, but she repaid Garzon for all of his efforts by walking “a well-executed race.” Stevens continues to work with Garzon, who sends her training plans to ensure she will be at her best for the Olympic Trials.

Robyn Stevens paid a visit to Vacaville High on June 5 to meet senior Jessie Lenox, who is recovering from cancer.

Her intense training to take a shot at the U.S. record turned out to be in vain when she contracted COVID-19. At least there was a vaccine to help her recover. There was no cure, however, from the “toxicity” she faced in dealing with the U.S. Race Walking Committee. It would be safe to say the committee is not fond of her.

Stevens believes her former boyfriend, Nick Christie, has had a hand in that. Their relationship made for a touching story in 2021 because Christie is also a race walker and competed in Tokyo. The two went their separate ways after returning and Stevens claims Christie has been sabotaging her career ever since.

“I have nothing to prove to myself. I just need to prove it to the people who have treated me so terribly,” said Stevens, who had hoped to be a two-time Olympian for the sole purpose of taking her mother to Paris. Carolyn now has no interest in going, Stevens said, because of all the treachery her daughter has had to face.

Surrendering is not an option for Stevens, who draws inspiration from those who have faced far greater battles. Her golden retriever April died from cancer in 2015 and left Stevens with the mantra to “be golden.” As Stevens explained, “That doesn’t mean I have to win a gold medal. It was a sign from her that ‘This is your life. You’re not finished yet.’ I knew I had to make the most of my talent.”

Stevens visited Vacaville High on June 5 to meet Jessie Lenox, a senior who could not compete in track this spring as she recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Stevens gave Lenox a Team USA bag and jersey from Tokyo along with a “Congrats Grad” balloon. Stevens was in awe of Lenox as much as Lenox was of meeting her.

The spotlight will dim once Stevens retires and she is fine with that. Freedom will light the way to the next chapter of her life. April will be barking in approval.