Tabitha Bemis is used to facing obstacles.
A senior member of the Edinboro track and field team, Bemis stares down those obstacles -- namely, hurdles and jumping pits -- with success unequaled in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
Never, however, did she face the obstacle that presented itself in December for the entire Fighting Scots indoor team.
At the start of their indoor season, the heating system for their 236-meter dome-covered track failed. The Fighting Scots were faced with either trying to still practice in the unheated facility, venture outside in one of the harshest winters to hit Erie County or improvise.
"We practiced in the gym a lot, but we haven't been in spikes because you can't wear spikes in the gym," said Bemis, a 2010 graduate of Quaker Valley. "We don't have a sand pit to jump into. We can't bring hurdles over because it'll scratch the gym floor. Stuff like that that just prevents us from doing things that I should be doing to excel at the events I'm competing in."
Not only did Bemis overcome those obstacles, she managed to maintain her level of excellence.
At the PSAC Indoor Track and Field Championships March 1-2 at Bucknell University, Bemis finished first in the long and triple jumps for the third consecutive season, defended her gold medal in the 60-meter hurdles and, for a remarkable third year in a row, was voted both the Field Athlete and Overall Most Valuable Athlete of the indoor championships.
All this without holding a legitimate practice on an indoor track.
"We were training in the gym, we were doing stuff on treadmills, we were doing stuff in hallways," first-year Edinboro coach Anne Carlson said. "She did hurdle drills in a classroom. She just overcame. Despite the facility issues she still found a way to succeed. It's amazing she was still able to do what she did."
What she did without proper training was not only emerge from the conference championships as one of the top athletes, but still hit three NCAA Division II qualifying standards.
She won the long jump by more than a foot with an NCAA-qualifying leap of 19 feet, 2½ inches and won the triple jump by more than 2 feet with another NCAA-qualifying leap of 39-8¾. Both distances were season-best marks.
"I didn't know what to expect going in with the training and everything," said Bemis, a resident of the Fair Oaks section of Leet Township. "I was really excited. My parents got there right before my first event and that's always been really important to me having them there. I was really nervous.
"What was most important for me was to go in and qualify for the national meet. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to go out and jump well and jump far and run fast and just enjoy it. I was just looking around and I love the competition, I love the atmosphere. It really gets me going."
Bemis really got going in the 60-meter hurdles. She won the race by an astounding .35 seconds, matching her PSAC and school-record time of 8.60 to qualify for the NCAA championships in a third event.
"I honestly can't even remember the race," said Bemis, the Post-Gazette's High School Female Athlete of the Year in 2010. "That day was such a blur. I started warming up at 10:30 in the morning and I didn't stop running until 5 o'clock.
"I just remember the start of the race and then the finish and I looked up at the clock and saw 8.60. I was so excited because it was faster than I've run all season but afterward, I was like, man, couldn't it have been .01 faster? I wasn't running with anyone after the second hurdle so to run that time, that was on my own. That was just me pushing myself. I think that was kind of an accomplishment in itself."
Bemis has quite a few accomplishments in her career at Edinboro. As a sophomore she was a two-time indoor All-American in the long and triple jump and already this season she twice earned PSAC Athlete of the Week recognition.
Not to mention overcoming a lack of proper training due to no fault of her own in this, her final season at Edinboro.
"Halfway through the season I was extremely concerned that I wouldn't be making it to the national meet," Bemis said. "There was a point at the beginning of the season that you feel defeated.
"To know what I had in the past, the training I did in the past, not to be able to do that was worrisome. You're worried that you're not going to be able to perform the way want to perform when you're not able to train the way you that you've trained."
Now Bemis will be the only athlete from the PSAC competing in three events at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships that begin Friday at Winston-Salem, N.C.
"I would love to be an All-American again; I think that's everyone's goal going into a national meet. If you go to a national meet you want to be on that podium.
"I think what I'm really trying to focus on is getting a personal best. I really want to put it all out there and leave it all on the track."
Rick Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3789.