Dalilah Muhammad was 7 years old when she first started running.
But it wasn’t until she was in high school that she decided running had a focus and involved hurdling over literal obstacles.
Muhammad has been running the 400m hurdles for as long as she can remember, but she never quite counted on the metaphorical hurdles she’d have to leap in order to achieve her goal.
Through it all, however, the Bayside native never lost hope—or a fierce sense of determination—and that faith has paid off. After years of waiting and dreaming and, of course, running, Muhammad is set to make her Olympic debut next month, joining Team USA in Rio.
“Even from a young age I was good at hurdles,” said Muhammad, who graduated from Cardozo in 2008. “I think that’s what motivated me and focused me to do only that. I just felt like that was my race. My coaches used to tell me that I was made for this race and some part of me believed that.”
The road to Rio has not been an easy one for Muhammad and she’s the first to admit that she’s tripped over some of those metaphorical hurdles a few times.
She came up short in the Olympic Trials in 2012, eliminated from contention much earlier than she expected. Then last year, she battled a nagging quad injury that kept her from moving at top speed.
“It was just a real slow recovery,” Muhammad said. “It was getting OK, but it really took me a while to recover from it. Even once I did, I had felt like I had lost so much from those few months of trying to get back. So it just wasn’t there for me. This year I really, really was on it and I’ve been treating it as much as I can. I haven’t had one issue with it this year, thankfully.”
Muhammad wasn’t sure the issues with her quad were truly over until earlier this month at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. The performance that she put on over the multi-day event, however, erased every one of her doubts.
Muhammad won each of her races and then, for good measure, set a Trials record in the final, with a 52.88 finish. It was the fifth-fastest time for an American woman ever in the event.
“I was honestly also kind of shocked by the time,” Muhammad said. “I was actually really nervous. I’m never the one to be nervous, but for whatever reason I was nervous about the race. I’m really just happy to be going to Rio more than anything.”
Muhammad will head to the Team USA pre-Olympics training camp later this month before returning to Los Angeles for a few days and then, finally, heading to Rio in early August.
She’s a bundle of emotions when she stops to think about the journey that has led her to her Olympic dream. But mostly, Muhammad is just thankful for this chance.
She’s not going to miss a moment and, just maybe, she’ll be able to clear that final hurdle and find herself on a podium at the end of it all.
“I was just working so hard and unfortunately I’ve had setbacks, but to get here, it feels like the perfect time,” she said. “Everything just kind of all worked all in God’s plan and I’m just super thankful. I’m so happy. I can’t wait.”