Mijah Collier can’t even talk about her junior-year injury without feeling the pain.
“It hurts to say it, but last year I pulled my quad, so I was out for (nearly) an entire two seasons; spring and summer,” said the recent Lawrence High graduate, who rebounded in her senior season to qualify for two events at the Meet of Champions this year.
“The injury happened right away as I was practicing my 4×100 relay handoffs with (teammate) Cynthia Currie. I sprinted 110 meters down the back stretch and I heard two knocking sounds and next thing I knew I couldn’t really walk. I said the injury happened right away but I also began to think to myself, ‘Am I stretching enough?’ So the injury occurrence can go both ways.”
The discomfort was felt in more than just her quad. Her brain was pounding with the misery of knowing she had to sit around and watch.
“It most definitely was frustrating,” Collier said. “My coaches will be the first to tell you that they had to yell at me a couple of times to get me off the track. But me being me, I didn’t listen because I wanted to run and be able to compete with my team. I would often try to do workouts and lie about how my leg was feeling. Honestly I feel like that’s what kept me out for so long. If I would’ve just listened I might have been able to compete last year.”
Yeah, but you can’t fault a competitor for trying. And Cardinals head coach Tim Collins looked at it as one of those silver lining deals. He quickly noted that he never wants to see anyone get hurt—especially in their junior year which is big for recruiting.
But he also wondered if it might not have led to her standout senior campaign.
“I hesitate to say last year might have been a little bit of a blessing, because obviously getting injured is not a blessing,” Collins said. “But she took some time off to re-charge the batteries and re-set everything. She would say ‘I do love doing this, I want to do it.’ You never want time off. If you have it there’s a silver lining. She missed last spring so this year she’s saying ‘I’m taking advantage of this.’”
Collier, of course, didn’t think she needed a break. But Collins may have a point, as Mijah began running with the Trenton Track Club at age 5. She took a break to concentrate on dancing, but at age 12 her parents decided if she wanted to excel in scholastic track, it was time to resume her running.
“They told me I had to start generating the need for speed mentality,” Collier said. “So with that being said I came back to the team and it felt like home.”
She has been there ever since, working with Al Jennings, generally considered the top track mind in the area.
As a middle school competitor, Collier ran the 200 and 400 meters “and the coaches would throw me in the 800 once in a blue moon.” When she arrived at Lawrence, Collier won the 200 indoor gold medal as a freshman. But Jennings saw hurdling potential in Collier and she made the move in ninth grade.
It was something she wasn’t yearning for, but was kind of expecting.
“Honestly, I never pictured myself being a hurdler because it wasn’t something that I wanted to do,” Collier said. “But my mom and my older brother were hurdlers so I should’ve known coach was going to hit me with the “You’re hurdling’ news sooner or later.”
Collins feels the event is a pretty good fit for her.
“I don’t know if I’d say she’s a natural, but she seems like a pretty good one,” the coach said. “She’s very good at it. She’s been good at it since her freshman year. She’s got good mechanics for it.”
Collier was stellar in her freshman and sophomore seasons, and was part of several record-setting relay teams whose marks still stand.
“My first two years were great,” she said. “Especially my freshman year. I was completely fearless, because I felt as though no one is really expecting anything from a little freshman like myself. Boy, was I wrong. I didn’t always win but I did medal in meets like the MCT.”
Then came the frustration of last spring, which put her promising career on hold after a few attempts at running.
“Early in the spring she actually ran well in the dual meets and ran well at the Ed Poreda Invitational,” Collins said. “Then she got the quad thing that never went away. She missed counties, sectionals, all throughout that year. That was the first time she ever missed any significant amount of time so yeah, that was quite a layoff.”
Collier would try every so often but finally decided to just let things rest.
“It took me two track seasons to come back full strength,” Collier said. “When I was able to run again I quickly joined the cross country team.”
Despite being a sprinter/hurdler all her life, she was consistently in the Cardinals top seven runners during the cross country season. Collins felt it also provided a good base for the track seasons.
‘Honestly there is nothing besides track for me. Track is really, honestly my life.’
“She enjoyed it as much as it helped her out,” the coach said. “It may have increased her pain threshold, doing something out of her comfort zone. She’s been running for quite a number of years but this was more than that. She was shaking it up a little bit, pushing a couple boundaries. I don’t know if aerobically it helped her, but I think it had a lot to do with increasing her mental ability.”
Collier showed she was all the way back during the indoor season when she lowered her school record in winning the MCT 55 hurdles. That gave her four school indoor records: the 55 hurdles and the 4×200, 4×400 and sprint medley relays.
Eager to go in the outdoor season, Collier suffered some frustration at the county meet. She won the 100 hurdle preliminaries by a good four steps but there was a timing issue and the race had be to run again. For some reason, Collier missed the do-over, was unable to run in the finals and watched teammate Khalin Hemingway not only win the race but break Collier’s record in the 100 hurdles.
“That was a strange series of events and it could have been a disaster,” Collins said with a laugh. “Fortunately she came back and won the 400 hurdles (in 1:06.2).”
Success kept building from there. At the Central Jersey Group III meet, Collier won the 100 hurdles (14:49) and 400 hurdles (1:03.63), regaining her 100 school record in the process.
At Group III states, she was fifth in the 100 (14.83) and fourth in the 400 (1:02.8), which Collier considered the highlight of her season.
Due to some post-prom blahs, her Meet of Champions efforts were not up to snuff, but Collier was still satisfied with her season, which included a trip to the New Balance Nationals the weekend of June 15-17.
“I surpassed last year’s goals this year,” she said. “I wanted to qualify for nationals in both hurdles, but because I wasn’t able to compete last year I fulfilled that goal this year.”
She will leave as a record holder in six outdoor relays: the 4×100, 4×200, 4×400, 4×400, sprint medley and super sprint medley.
About the only downer of her career was the injury, which cost Collier precious showcasing opportunities.
“It slowed down my recruiting process,” she noted. “Colleges that were once looking at me were no longer looking because I wasn’t running and they had to move on to the next.”
Collier still had some places to choose from. After the MOC her choices were Bloomfield, Towson, Indiana East University and Eastern Michigan University. She planned on making her decision after the nationals, and rest assured the school who lands her will have an extremely dedicated athlete.
“When I’m not running I’m either resting, hanging out with family and friends, or doing school work,” Collier said. “Honestly there is nothing besides track for me. Track is really, honestly my life.”