Abby Steiner and her UK teammates will compete in the SEC Championships in Oxford, Mississippi, May 12-14. (UK Athletics Photo)
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) –SUPERSTAR!
That’s how Kentucky track & field head coach Lonnie Greene described senior UK sprinter Abby Steiner in the media session leading up to the SEC Championships to be held later this week.
“At the end of the day, I believe Abby understands the gift that God has blessed her with,” Greene explained. “I always tell people when you work the gift, success follows it. God has honored her work. He’s honored all her diligence.”
In the world of athletics, you often hear the word “superstar” bandied about way too casually, but Steiner’s accomplishments on the field certainly fit the bill. The former soccer player turned track icon is currently the American record holder in the 200-meter dash indoors, a two-time NCAA champion, a three-time SEC champion, and one of the top five fastest outdoor 200m runners in collegiate history.
That’s all fine and dandy, but being a superstar involves more that just accomplishments and record times. In my mind, here’s what makes Abby Steiner stand head and shoulders above her competition.
This one is obvious. We’re talking about DNA, about good genes. This is the gift Coach Greene was referencing earlier. Even when Abby wasn’t at a hundred percent, he felt she was still better than every other athlete in the country. You don’t make all those podium appearances on dumb luck alone. Abby’s parents, David and Mollie Steiner, deserve at least a bit of the credit, wouldn’t you say?
Talent can only get you so far. After that, your success depends largely on hard work and perseverance. I’ve never seen a champion in any sport who didn’t hate losing, who didn’t enjoy a good old fashioned street fight.
“There isn’t a fight she doesn’t back down from,” Greene emphasized. “She’ll give you all that’s in the tank. That’s all a coach can ask—that a kid gives you one hundred and fifty percent everyday, every time she dons the uniform.”
During her junior season, Steiner suffered a tendon injury that tested her resolve. Rather than give in, she came back with a vengeance.
“When Coach [Tim] Hall shut her down, she was hotter than fish grease,” Greene acknowledged. “She couldn’t practice. She’s got this look when she gets beat. That look comes on her face like ‘I promise I’m going to hit you in the nose if you stay in front of me.’”
“She is focused,” Greene added. “She is locked in day in and day out.”
This type of laser focus bodes well for UK in the upcoming SEC tournament. For coaches and players on the team, the conference championship is even tougher than the upcoming regionals and national championships. Greene calls the SEC championships a “bloodbath.” A big key is not only to be successful but to get through it healthy.
That same injury last season also tested Steiner’s focus. Although it robbed her of some precious training and competition, she learned how to be more patient with herself through such a challenging ordeal. She heads into this weekend, therefore, with a singular focus in mind.
“I don’t have the SEC Outdoor title on my resume,” Steiner reminded the media. “It’d be really special. That’s my main focus—being on this team and doing what I need to do at each meet in order to put our team in the best position to do something special.”
Steiner understands the importance of being both a good teammate and a role model. Having played soccer for fifteen years and then transitioning quickly over to track during her freshman year has given her a unique perspective on playing sports. She encourages young people to go after their dreams.
“I hope that my journey can inspire all the younger girls to not be scared of adversity and change,” Steiner said. “To face it head on. Everything happens for a reason.”
As an excellent student, Steiner walked across the stage last week completing her degree in Human Health Sciences. Along the way, she garnered numerous academic accolades including Academic Honor Roll, CoSIDA Academic All-District, and CoSIDA Second Team Academic All-American. In this day and age, where academics are glossed over in lieu of lucrative NIL deals, that’s something she is and should be proud of.
The quality that jumped out most at me was Steiner’s mature attitude of gratitude. For someone so young and accomplished, she displays an amazing ability to stay in the present. The Dublin, Ohio native appreciates and enjoys the blessings of family.
“Some of the most special moments of my career are when I’ve been able to have my parents at meets as well,” Steiner answered when asked to reflect on her career. “I know that I—definitely this season—have tried to make the most of all the times I’ve been on the podium and find them in the crowd. Just being able to be surrounded by so many amazing people during my time here just makes all those moments that much more special.”
For the time being, Steiner wants to savor her remaining time as a collegiate athlete at the University of Kentucky. Unlike her coach, she’s not thinking too far ahead into the future. She’ll leave her “superstar” mantle completely in Coach Greene’s capable hands.
“I might be at the World Championship crying like a big sissy,” Greene confessed. “There’s nothing like being the ONE, being crowned the ONE. When that happens, I believe in God for that. I’ve been praying for her for that.”
So have a lot of us in BBN. Godspeed Abby Steiner. Regardless of what happens this weekend, you’re already a superstar in my book.
If you enjoy my writings as a University of Kentucky media member and fan, check out my latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . Follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.