Delaney Nolin (senior) smashed the U.S. Paralympic T38 800m record by nearly 3 seconds at the Pomona-Pitzer invite April 8. Nolin accomplished the feat by running 3:21.24, shattering the previous record of 3:24.18 and accomplishing one of the most outstanding achievements in Occidental history in the process.
“I don’t know that the gravity of it has really hit me,” Nolin said. “I was so surprised that it actually happened that I wasn’t really sure what to do.”
T38 is a classification for para-athletes that suffer from cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that can have a number of different symptoms, usually affecting body movement and muscle coordination.
“I definitely have impaired stride length and strength,” Nolin said. “There’s basically a disconnect between my brain and my muscles, so everything is a bit slower as far as reaction time. Coordinating movement is a lot harder, so my gait is affected, I limp and that just causes a cascade of other issues.”
Despite this, she was able to produce a phenomenal run which earned her a place in history as a U.S. Paralympic record holder. She also picked up SCIAC women’s track and field athlete of the week. Nolin, who normally focuses on the 400m, an event in which she has qualified to compete at the U.S. Paralympic trials, produced this effort in what was her first collegiate 800m run.
The landmark performance came after a particularly difficult week of training for Nolin.
“She had been sick all week and so there were question marks about her even running,” assistant track and field coach Tyler Yamaguchi said.
During her disrupted training for the invite, Nolin found new motivation in eyeing the record she would go on to beat.
“In preparation for this meet, Delaney just happened to look at the U.S. Paralympic records,” Yamaguchi said. “When she told me what the American record was, I did some quick math in my head and compared that to some workouts that she had done.”
The math looked good for Delaney but given her lack of familiarity with the event, nothing was certain heading into the race.
“For the first lap I just kind of ran it like a workout,” Nolin said. “I kept at a somewhat comfortable pace and then I hit about 200 [meters] to go and I had a lot of energy left so I was like I should probably start sprinting.”
By this point, it was becoming clear to those watching that they were witnessing history in the making.
“With a 100m to go, I was like she’s going to do it, there was no way she’s not going to do it at this point,” Yamaguchi said. “She crushed the record by like 3 seconds, so there was no debating it, it wasn’t even close. She crossed the line and we immediately knew that she had broken it.”
Nolin’s teammates and coaches celebrated her achievement, as they had witnessed first-hand all of the hard work that had made reaching this milestone possible.
“When I saw the time as she crossed the finish line, I immediately rejoiced” women’s track and field captain Onyekachi Nwabueze (senior) said. “Before the announcer could even finish, we all jumped up and down in celebration. It was incredible. I was filled with triumph and pride for Delaney.”
The future looks bright for Nolin, who hopes to qualify for this year’s World Para Athletics Championship at the upcoming U.S. trials. While she has dreams of one day reaching the Paralympic Games, the biology major was thrust back into academic life following her record-breaking run, dealing with the stress of senior comps like many other students at Occidental.
Nolin continues to deal with each challenge that stands in her way.
“She has never once complained,” Yamaguchi said. “She has never used her condition as an excuse. In fact, I think it’s the opposite, I think she’s a lot tougher than most of the other able-bodied track and field athletes out there. Her attitude is amazing.”