Emily Carter only ever finishes last with a purpose in mind.
Two days after capturing a PIAA championship in record fashion, the 16-year-old sophomore pulled up the rear in the Bethel Park Memorial Day parade. She and her mother, Erin, held up signs saying “The” and “End” indicating the procession’s conclusion.
“We have walked at the end of the parade for a few times now, but this was the first year we had a sign,” said Carter, who earned volunteer community service hours for organizing the parade to remain eligible in the National Honor Society. “We thought it would be funny. We did it as a joke.”
Carter though was not fooling around May 25 during the PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg University. She broke the state record in capturing the gold medal in the 3,200-meter run. She won the eight-lap race in 10:16.02.
On videos, now posted on YouTube and the website PAmilesplit.com, Carter’s face reflected how incredulous the feat was.
“I couldn’t believe it. Both the time and the fact I had just won states,” said Carter, who entered the event ranked fourth.
“Finishing first was just amazing, but to set a meet record was crazy. I never thought I would get that because those runners are legends,” she said of the previous record holders. “Their times are insane.”
The mile run was impressive, too. Carter captured the bronze medal with a personal best time of 4:53.87. That time was nearly six seconds faster than her WPIAL winning mark of 4:59.42.
However, gold medalist Taryn Parks from Greencastle and silver medalist Marlee Starliper from Northern set a blazing pace. They both went under the state record with times of 4:37.07 and 4:37.45, respectively. Those numbers are the top times in the nation this spring.
“The 1,600 was crazy,” Carter said. “They just went out so fast and I just tried to stay with some other girl and tried to get third.”
Of the four-lap race Carter said, “the mile feels like a sprint sometimes.” She added she prefers the longer events, particularly the two-mile race, which she also won at the WPIAL championships.
“The two-mile is a lot more relaxed,” she said.
Because she knew her competition from having finished second in the 3,000-meter run during the Pennsylvania indoor championships this winter, Carter entered the two-mile race pumped yet settled. In addition to beating her rival, Kate Dickow of Warwick, who took third, Carter out-kicked Reagan Underwood from Wilson to the finish line.
“I knew a lot of the girls in the race so my goal was to stay in front of Kate and the faster girls. I wanted to be patient and stay with the pack and put on a kick at the end,” Carter said.
Finding it easy to run with the pack, she stuck with a group of six until two peeled away heading into the final two laps. In the last lap, it was Carter and Dickow until the final 100 meters.
“I did not think I would win. Nor did I think I would get that time because it was 20 seconds over my PR,” said the daughter of Kent Carter. “It was a good day.”
It was a good day because Carter had put in the work to win. While working with Jack Hartnell for the first time, she concentrated on race strategies and learned when to kick. By focusing more on shorter distances, she gained speed.
“This year, I have worked a lot harder than I have ever before and my times have taken off,” she said. “We did lots of 400s. Running 400s are hard, but the workouts really helped me.”
What helps Carter’s long-distance running on the track is her experience in cross country. During the fall, she finished third in the WPIAL with a personal record of 19:03, 20, placed 11th at the PIAA championships and secured second during the Junior Olympics National Cross Country Championships held in Reno, Nev.
Carter said it’s hard to decide which she prefers–track or cross country–because there are different things she likes about both activities.
“I like cross country more because it’s longer and you only have to run once race,” she said.
Throughout her youth, Carter has done a lot of running around before she settled on her singular sport. She played volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter when she attended grade school. She also swam and played soccer. However, she started running seriously in sixth grade when she joined the Pacer Track Club.
Thanks to her coach, Steve Meddings, Carter said, “I fell in love with running.”
Running remains on Carter’s agenda. She will compete in the New Balance Nationals being held June 13-16 in Greensboro, N.C. In the fall, she returns to cross country before focusing again on track.
Carter has set lofty expectations for 2020. She wants to do well in cross country, but she said she wants to try and be a state champion again. She understands the weight of that ambition.
“Definitely,” she said, “there is a lot of pressure because I got the record. I’m not sure I can improve upon that because that’s a pretty good time but I definitely want to go faster. I want to be the best I can be.”
Her best may yet be on the horizon. Carter hopes to run in college while pursuing a career in physical therapy, athletic training or sports psychology.
“I hope I will reach my peak,” she said. “I plan to run a marathon one day. I might do that. But I intend to run the rest of my life even if it’s not professionally. Running is just something I love to do.”