There was a time when Courtney Williams would glance at a race walker and laugh.

“To be honest, I was making fun of it,” she said. “It looked funny.”

Now, when Williams sees race walkers, they likely are chasing her from behind.

Williams, 17, of Vassalboro, will compete in the 23rd annual USA vs. Canada Junior Race Walk Match on Sunday at East Boston Park in Massachusetts.

The 5-kilometer race, which the United States Track and Field Association sanctions, will feature the top six junior race walkers (ages 15-19) from each country.

Williams qualified for the race by finishing sixth at the USATF Outdoor National Championships on June 25 in Eugene, Ore.

“I’m so excited,” Williams said. “I’ve been really focusing on this meet.”

Williams, who graduated from Waterville Senior High School in the spring, will join Edward Little’s Abby Dunn and Lewiston’s Nicole Court-Menendez at the event.

Dunn finished fourth at the outdoor national championship event. Court-Menendez finished 10th and was selected as an alternate.

Monmouth Academy track and field coach Tom Menendez, who trains a group of elite Maine race walkers each winter, will coach the U.S. Junior team Sunday.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I was very happy to be selected. I wasn’t expecting it at all.”

Williams, who also has trained with renowned race walking coach and Farmington native Tom Eastler, didn’t know what to expect when she ventured to Oregon at the onset of summer.

“It was only my third time doing a (10-kilometer race),” she said. “It was nerve-racking. But I had the potential to get on the U.S. junior team. The day was perfect — it wasn’t too hot or too cold. Everything was set up just right, and I was thrilled to go and race.”

What happened next Williams won’t soon forget. She finished the race in 56 minutes, 29.52 seconds.

“I set a (personal record) by about four minutes,” Williams said. “It was huge. I was definitely extremely happy. I was just so proud of myself. Tom (Menendez) always told me I could do it, but I didn’t believe it until I finished the race. It was a huge jump for me.”

Added Menendez, who coached the Maine race walkers in Oregon: “They all raced their hearts out. It was marvelous.”

The sixth-place finish — Maite Moscoso of Altamonte Springs, Fla., won the race in 53:11.79 — earned Williams a spot on the junior national team.

Since the Oregon trip, Williams, Dunn and Court-Menendez have spent countless hours training for the East Boston race.

“I give Courtney two workouts a week, which she’ll do in her own area,” Menendez said. “On Saturdays, we do a hard workout at the Auburn Mall.”

Yes, the mall.

The trio arrive well before the stores open and race walk around the mall.

“We’ll just race walk around for an hour or an hour and 15 minutes before the mall part opens,” Williams said. “The girls I train with, we are all very close. It’s funny because there are other people walking, too, and we are race walking, so we are always swerving in and out of other people. They cheer us on, though.”

Added Menendez: “It’s 620 meters for one circuit of the mall — I know because I measured it. It’s a good workout. I think they’ll be ready.”

Williams will attend Husson University this fall. She plans to study physical therapy and compete for the school’s cross country team. In the meantime, she hopes to make one more splash at a national race walking event.

“I’m looking forward to seeing good competition,” she said. “I can’t wait.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]


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