Greater Toronto Area track prodigy Sarah Wells adds Pan Am silver to promising career

Having competed in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Wells can now boast of a Pan Am Games silver medal. Competitive throughout the race, Wells finished second to Shamier Little, while Deborah Rodriguez of Uruguay earned bronze. Of note, Wells’ time in the race at CIBC Athletics Stadium was an impressive 56.17.

Upon crossing the finish line, she proudly adorned her back with the Canadian flag, running a celebratory lap while being showered with applause. As a side note, her semifinal time on the day prior was 56.77 seconds, placing second.
Leading into the Pan Am Games, Wells’ image, jumping over an imaginary hurdle, with her blonde hair flowing in the background, were plastered on a banner outside of Toronto’s Eaton Centre. She was quickly known as the “Face of the Pan Am Games.”

Raised in Unionville, Ontario (not far from 100 meter gold medalist Andre DeGrase who grew up in neighboring Markham), she ran in front of 20 to 30 proud family members in the stands, cheering her on. Of note, she was featured at 17 years of age in the Toronto Star. In 2007, she had qualified for the Canadian team that played in Brazil’s Pan-Am Junior Finals, with a time of 1.00:37 in the 400-meter hurdles.

As one of the stars of Unionville High School’s track and field team, she advanced to the Ontario track and field finals in her senior year. In regional competition, she had earned first place in three track competitions including the 400m hurdles, 100m hurdles and the winning 4×400 relay (of which she was the anchor).

Recognized as Unionville High’s track and field MVP for three straight years, Wells also excelled in field hockey. Complementing such a distinguished track career at the high school level was the fact that she broke the Canadian Youth under-17 record of 59.48 seconds in the 400m hurdles in June 2006. During her high school years, she would also practice at York University, the site of her silver medal run in the Pan Am Games.

Equally accomplished in the class room, her career took her to internationally renowned University of Toronto. Back in 2004, she was invited by the university to participate in its junior development program. At the 2013 Summer Universiade, she proudly represented the University (where she studies physical education and kinesiology) as she helped Canada gain the silver in the 4 x 400-meter hurdle relay.

During her preparation for the Pan Am Games, she participated in a series of tests where she lined up in starting blocks affixed to custom-made force plates, providing research information for grad student Lindsay Musalem. Working with other University of Toronto track athletes, the plates were used for the first time to gather data as the start is the most crucial aspect to success in sprinting, Looking to see if sprinters such as Wells can reproduce strong starts, Musalem was measuring the velocity of sprinters launching from the start blocks, while also determining the exertion of force in numerous directions.

The most admirable aspect of her remarkable run to the silver was the fact that she has bounced back from injury more than once. Prior to the 2012 London Summer Games, Wells was shelved for nine months, after a stress fracture diagnosis on her left femur. The bigger challenge was being able to return to her previous fitness level while maintaining her psychological toughness. A strong belief in herself, plus a strong support network was accentuated as she wrote the word “Believe” on her palm at London, waving to the crowd proudly.

After competition in 2014, the femur endured another stress fracture and nearly did not appear at the Pan Am Games after a tear in her hamstring. As devastating as it was, Wells proved why she is such a world class athlete overcoming adversity. The support of the League Group was an exceptional source of encouragement, helping her build on a remarkable level of fitness. It is an effort that she tries to reciprocate as a co-founder of the Fearless Action Challenge, empowering young girls to stand up to peer pressure while utilizing physical activity as a source of confidence.

Through great determination and perseverance, she managed to rebound and capture a fourth Canadian title in 2015. Contested in Edmonton, the Canadian championships took place just four days prior to the start of the Pan Am Games. As a side note, Wells managed to improve on her time, running faster than she had in practice with a time of 56.03, just 38 seconds off her personal best of 55.65.

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