It’s hard to picture Kirsten Carter sputtering out. But if you’ve seen it — or perhaps, worse yet, lived it — it’s difficult to erase the memory.
But Carter, who just graduated from Santa Rosa High, just handed track watchers the world’s biggest Etch-a-Sketch — you know, those toys where an image can be erased with a little shake. With her double-podium performance at the CIF state track and field championship in Clovis over the weekend, Carter gave the haunting memory of her poor performance in the 400-meter dash her freshman year the most emphatic shake-off in the world.
That image is gone. The greatest female sprinter in Redwood Empire history has drawn a new one in its place. It looks something like this: “54.07.” The fastest 400-meter time ever run by a girl in the Redwood Empire. And she got a third-place finish and a CIF medal for her efforts.
Three years ago, Carter came into the state meet riding high. She was a sprint phenom. She had posted the second-fastest preliminary time in the 400 meters that year to earn the second seed on one of high school track’s grandest stages.
But in the final, Carter was not herself. She said she woke up that morning feeling like “nothing was working.”
She fiddled with her warmup, she splashed cold water on her face, she tried cracking jokes.
“Literally, overnight, it was, ‘Oh, there goes all that energy you put into your body,’” she said.
Watching that race three years ago, I described it as looking like she had “hit a wall.” She was barely out of the final turn when racers were crossing the finish line. Her final time was 1:00.89. The winner finished in 53.13.
And the sprinter who seems golden in every event she sets her mind to seemed to shy away from that distance ever since.
“It never became, ‘Maybe it’s not my race,’ but I did feel more like maybe I wasn’t ready to run it,” she said. “There was no real explanation.”
This is an athlete who owns all-time Redwood Empire records in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes. She owns the 300-meter-hurdle record. She’s third best all-time in the long jump. And just for fun, she’s 44th all-time in the shot put. She medaled at the state meet last year in the 100-meter dash. She’s regularly invited to national track meets. She set a national high school record in the 300-meter hurdles earlier this season.
She’s not used to sputtering. So let’s just say her race Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis looked nothing like freshman year. But before the gun, the memory was still there, lurking.
“When I was sitting in the blocks, once we got to ‘Set,’ I was like, ‘You are already in, this is it, you can’t just give up now. There is no point,’” she said. “Then the gun went off and it was like, ‘Go, go, go.’”
“I know how that (2015) race felt. That didn’t happen. It must be like, ‘Gone,’” she remembered thinking of the ghost of freshman year.
She was in fifth place heading into the final 100 meters. With her speed, that’s well within striking distance.