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Olympic race walker visits Crystal Lake school

Former athlete encourages students at South Elementary to work toward goals

CRYSTAL LAKE – When moving from classroom to classroom, students at Crystal Lake South Elementary School are always told to walk, don’t run.

For Debbi Sullivan, that advice took her all the way to the Olympics.

On Wednesday, the students at South Elementary gathered to hear from Sullivan, who appeared for the United States in three summer Olympic games as a race walker. Sullivan talked about her career as an Olympic athlete and how to achieve goals.

“When I was your age I wanted to be on the Olympic team,” Sullivan said to the students. “That was my dream. Whether you have a dream at this stage, or maybe not yet at all, you have to have a dream to achieve anything. That’s your goal in life.”

Sullivan qualified for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Her best finish came in 1996 when she placed 20th. Each race has roughly 50 competitors.

Sullivan held the world record for fastest 1,500-meter race with a time of 5:54.41 in 1992, which has since been broken.

Olympic race walking is different from other track events because it requires athletes to always maintain contact with the ground and to always land with a straight leg, a requirement that often eliminates athletes during the competition.

Although she never medaled in any Olympic race, Sullivan told the students how important it was that she finished each race and always believed in herself.

“My coach would always say, ‘I would rather have somebody that doesn’t know how to do it but has a really good attitude. I’d rather coach that kind of person than someone who is so talented but has a [bad attitude].’”

Sullivan’s talk corresponded with the students Go for the Gold reading initiative, which began in December. They were offered weekly incentives for increased reading and provided lanyards that look like medals.

“We want our kids to be motivated readers,” said South Principal Lisa Gott, adding that Sullivan’s appearance was the perfect end to the months-long initiative.

“She touched on not only dreams and discipline, but she also talked about having character and persevering,” Gott said. “Those are all the things we work on in school … She really wrapped a lot of things up very nicely in a wonderful gift to our students.”

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