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WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD: Steeplechase novice Mary Goodwin overrunning Beavers’ record book

Mary Goodwin accepted the challenge of trying out the 3,000-meter steeplechase -- and has passed with record-breaking colors. The Eagle River, Alaska, native has bested the BSU standard three times over, and she now owns half of the top-10 times in school history.

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Mary Goodwin has overhauled Bemidji State's steeplechase record in the past year, now owning the school's top three times. She is pictured in front of BSU's program records, with her steeplechase standard highlighted in yellow behind her.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- A year ago, Mary Goodwin had zero experience in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. And now she can’t stop breaking the program record.

“It was really intimidating to do it the first time. I’d never done it, I just kind of got thrown into it,” said Goodwin, a sophomore on the Bemidji State women’s track and field team. “But you’ve got to try new things at some point. You might not be good at it, but you’ve got to at least give it a try if you think it’ll be fun.”

Goodwin accepted the challenge -- and has passed with record-breaking colors. The Eagle River, Alaska, native has bested the BSU standard three times over, and she now owns half of the top-10 steeplechase times in school history.

Not bad for running the event seven times in her lifetime.

“She comes to work every day working hard, and that’s ultimately why she’s been successful,” Bemidji State head coach Kevin Kean said. “The 3k steeple is a great grind event. She’s learning to love that challenge.”

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Goodwin’s first attempt in the steeplechase came in March 2021, when she ran a 12:47.86. She dropped 35 seconds on her second attempt two weeks later. By mid-May, she shaved a minute off her original race and set a new program record of 11:44.82.

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Bemidji State's Mary Goodwin runs in the 3,000-meter steeplechase during the NSIC Championships in May 2021.
BSU photo

She picked up right where she left off when this year’s outdoor season opened. Goodwin broke her own record on April 2, then again on April 9 with a current Bemidji State record of 11:31.69.

“I think it’s really cool to see how I’ve grown since last year,” Goodwin said. “And it’s cool to have my teammates with me because they’re always supporting me. If I have a bad race or a good race, they’re always there. Even my first race, I didn’t run that fast or anything. But they were like, ‘Oh, you can do better. You can break the record.’ They still believed in me, so that was really helpful.”

Behind the scenes of Goodwin’s progression, Kean also sees unique physical attributes within her to make such a leap possible.

“Mary is very flexible for a distance runner,” Kean said. “Normally with their shorter stride length, (distance runners’) hips get a little tighter and they don’t always have that natural ability, like a pure hurdler who works on it every day. … It’s pretty incredible that her foot speed, her endurance and now this mobility with the strange steeplechase event, they’re all coming together.”

Until Goodwin came along, Christa Pribula’s program record of 11:48.10 had stood since 2005. Goodwin now owns the top three times in school history, and she may not be done rewriting the record books just yet.

“My big goal overall is that, by senior year, to hopefully (qualify) for nationals,” Goodwin said. “I’m only 30 seconds away from it now. … Being able to hit provisionals would be a dream goal.”

And while Goodwin took a grounded approach, Kean’s vision verged on prophetic.

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“She is on track to get to the national championships by her senior year,” he said. “She’ll have to drop 30-40 seconds over the next two and a half seasons, which I think is within her wheelhouse. It’s pretty incredible.”

What’s more, Bemidji State doesn’t even have the resources to properly practice the steeplechase. Goodwin uses the sand pit to simulate jumping into the water barrier at BSU’s 200-meter indoor track, which is also shorter than the standard 400-meter outdoor track. Most of Goodwin’s “practice” happens live at meets.

“If you have the effort, we’ll have the coaching expertise to match it,” Kean said. “That’s what’s unique about Bemidji. We will find a way to succeed regardless of what challenges we run into.”

That’s the mentality that Goodwin carries, too. No matter what gets thrown her way -- and yes, that includes the steeplechase -- she’s up for anything.

“It was like, ‘You know what? Might as well try it,” Goodwin said. “I always like a challenge, when it comes to racing or anything else.”

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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