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Mary Bibbey is Chasing History in the Steeplechase

Mary Bibbey Steeplechase

Nonnewaug junior Mary Bibbey competes in the steeplechase at the CIAC State Open meet on June 13. (Photo by M Douglas Bibbey)

WOODBURY – As a freshman in of 2015, Nonnewaug’s Mary Bibbey tagged along with her track and field teammates and tried the steeplechase.

A few weeks later, Bibbey won the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Confrence State Open girls 2,000 meter steeplechase. Bibbey beat the runner-up,  Nonnewaug teammate Emily Wingard, by 15.25 seconds.

It was just the beginning of a dynasty for Bibbey, who won the CIAC State Open championship for a third time back on June 13.

“It means something to her to be successful,” says Nonnewaug girls track and field coach Arleigh Duff. “It’s her personality. She wants to win at everything she does.”

Bibbey won the steeplechase as a sophomore with a time of 7:10.25, besting her prior years’ time of 7:14.04. Bibbey got the three-peat as a junior with a time 0f 7:09.51, and beat the second-place finisher by 14.53 seconds.

That third win tied a CIAC record for both most wins and most consecutive wins in the 2,000 meter steeplechase. Bibbey shares the record with Nonnewaug’s Jackie Nicholas, who won the steeplechase in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

But Bibbey will have the opportunity to become the state’s first four-time steeplechase champion at the 2018 CIAC State Open. Nicholas achieved her trifecta in her sophomore, junior and senior years, following an eighth-place finish as a freshman.

Not an Everyday Event

The 2,000 meter steeplechase is not an every day event. In fact, it’s run once a year at the CIAC State Open. A 2,000 meter steeplechase has 18 barriers and five water jumps.

And despite the dominance in the event Nonnewaug athletes have had in the steeplechase, they don’t get a lot of training time for the event.

Arleigh Duff Mary Bibbey

Nonnewaug head coach Arleigh Duff (left) and three-time State Open steeplechase champion Mary Bibbey (Photo by M Douglas Bibbey).

“Once we get the [Berkshire League] championships and state meets out of the way, we start incorporating it in their workouts a little bit,” Duff says. “They’ll have days where they just work on form drills. The distance training alone gets them in shape to handle the distance.”

It’s a lot of technique, especially when you’re going over the hurdles. A lot of people are inexperienced doing that. So if you’re very good at that, that’s where you can gain your lead.

Nonnewaug’s track does not have a water jump, so Chiefs athletes must improvise with their training.

Duff says it sometimes means placing a barrier at the end of the long jump pit. The sand then simulates the feel of running through the water after landing.

There is a water pit at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in New Britain, where the State Open meet is held annually. The water pit is 12 feet long, and three feet deep at its deepest point, which is right after the jump barrier.

“When you’re jumping, you want to get out as far as possible so you’re barely in the water and it doesn’t slow you down,” says Bibbey, who adds that she has an advantage because of her height (5-feet, 9 ½ inches) and her stride.

“With my height, I can completely clear the hurdle, which puts me at an even greater advantage against people who have to step against it,” Bibbey says.

Duff says that without a water pit, the best way to actually train for the steeplechase is to actually compete in it at the State Open.

In Bibbey’s case, she made an adjustment as the June 13 steeplechase began. Bibbey says she had been putting her foot on the steeple, then launching herself onto the other leg and landing and trying to keep going.

“But you’re falling and you’re jumping into water and you’re tired, so landing on one leg wasn’t ideal,” Bibbey says. “I was starting to fall and it was slowing me down.”

At the state open meet, Bibbey made the distinction that if she landed 1-2 on both feet like she was running already, it was easier for her to land, and she could keep running instead of stumbling.

More Than Just a Distance Runner

Bibbey has become the top distance runner on the Nonnewaug girls outdoor track and field team. During the past spring, she won the 800 meter, 1,600 meter and 3,200 meter races at the Berkshire League championship meet.

Duff has a story that describes how respected Bibbey is as a distance runner. Last year at the Nonnewaug Invitational cross country meet, when Duff asked his fellow coaches if they had any questions about the course, one coach raised his hand and asked where Mary was.

“I told him, ‘She’s over there on the soccer field,’” Duff says, adding that it shocked the other coaches.

“I’d love her in cross country because she’s one of the best in the state,” Duff says. “But I don’t want to recruit from another sport.”

The fact the Bibbey could be one of the top distance runners in the state despite not participating in cross country or indoor track defies all logic, Duff says.

But in soccer, as a junior, she was Nonnewaug’s leading scorer with 19 goals. And in soccer and in basketball, Bibbey was an all-Berkshire League performer.

“It makes her unique, and you don’t see a lot of kids doing that,” Duff says. “If you think about how fast she gets in two months, most of the kids she races against have had year-long training.”

Bibbey says she likes to lead an active lifestyle, and always wants to be doing something outdoors. She says that lifestyle has made her successful.

“I’ll go out running, sometimes I’ll go play frisbee with friends, and I’ll even play tennis with the tennis teams,” Bibbey says. “So I’m maintaining what I have for track, but my muscles aren’t attuned for long distance.”

Bibbey also excels off the field. She’s a top ten percent scholar, and is in the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society and National Science Honor Society.

She also puts her schoolwork first. Bibbey qualified for nationals in the steeplechase for the third straight year. However, she chose not to compete because it would have conflicted with her final exam schedule.

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