13 Questions for Nia Ali 2020
1. How did you start track?
Nia Ali: I started running when I was a kid, when I was 6 years old. There was this boy in the same day care as me. I would race him all the time and his mother came to pick him up and would see me beating him all the time. She told my mom that she needed to sign me up for track because her son was on a team and I was beating him! So, I asked my mom every day and she was “OK, she really wants to do this”.
2. Why hurdles?
Nia Ali: I began hurdles my junior year at high school. I started off as the distance runner but I sort of grew out of that and I was looking for something that would show something more of my ability. I played basketball and other sports so I wondered about high jump. But the idea of running full speed and jumping over something was exhilarating and having tried it I just wanted to get better.
3. What were your expectations for Doha 2019?
Nia Ali: I had been to the 2013 and 2017 world championships – outdoors – but I had not medalled. So, my aim was just to get on the podium. I thought if I shoot for gold, hopefully I’ll come in the top three. My main goal was to fight to get on the podium. I always knew that I had it in me and going through the rounds showed me how fit I was. It just seemed to be clicking so it was just about staying focused and hoping that everything fell into place. It did, even running a personal best. My best performance ever. I also had a PR in the semi when I felt I was stepping off the gas a little at the end and I was really excited to be able to duplicate that in the final.
4. Was it difficult to see your team-mate, Brianna McNeal DQed?
Nia Ali: I felt terrible. After my round I stayed out on the track to watch her run. I’m really close friends with her and as soon as I saw it, I was “Whao”. I know her journey. It’s tough to see it happen to anybody but to a close friend, it was gut wrenching. It was heart-breaking but she is a warrior and she will bounce back. You can’t count her out for the future. She will come back with a vengeance. For me, this was just the worst thing that could have happened.
5. What are your memories of the 2019 worlds?
Nia Ali: When I arrived, the heat was pretty tough for me but people said I would get used to it and I did. I didn’t ever let it get to me. The setup was great because we were able to go inside, warm up and go outside. My coach kept stressing, “drink a lot of water. You can handle this; just get out there”. The experience was great. My best memory was having my family there. It was great to be out there and support AndrÃ© as I don’t get the chance to do at every meet. I was there watching him. I loved the lights and the show and to see him come back and get his medals? [Bronze 100, silver 200]
6. Did you like the light show?
Nia Ali: I liked to watch it but I remember thinking “oh my gosh, I hope they don’t do it for my race or I would be a mess”. And they didn’t do it! And I thought “perfect”!
7. Is it fair to call you an indoor specialist, given that you’ve won two world indoor gold medals?
Nia Ali: I don’t know. It’s a tough thing for me to say. If you look at my outdoor races, I tend to come from behind. And my indoor times are not that fast. Looking at my indoor PR, I think I can go a lot faster. I think I just do what it takes. I’m a real fighter and whatever it takes to win, I do it out there on the track. I had done pretty well for myself indoors so I guess you could say I’m an indoor specialist.
8. Winning in 2016 in Portland must have been special?
Nia Ali: Oh, for sure. To be able to do it. I had just had Titus and he was still a baby and that was all new to me. So to be at home, in front of a home crowd on a new track was super exciting. And with Brianna and Keni on the team it was a good group of people.
9. Rio 2016 – is it fair to say that not everyone expected you to get a medal?
Nia Ali: Probably. I think at that stage I had probably only shown what I can do indoors. I had previously made an outdoor team but not made it very far. So I think it is fair for people to go of what they could see. But no one sees what you do in training, they can only judge you from races and I had an up and down year so the judgment is fair. But I think I’ve proven myself to be a championship performer. You can’t ever count me out but you may not know where I’m going to fall.
10. The U.S. trials are so tough, especially in the hurdles.
Nia Ali: I think knowing the strength in depth is what keeps us going in training. It’s really hard and we know that it’s not just about the competition from all over the world. But it’s like a sisterhood and we all want to bring our best. We represent our country and when we do, we want to bring our best just like we do in the Diamond Leagues and all the other meets. For me it’s just about staying focused and staying keen on yourself on what you need to do in training. That’s how we get through it.
11. 2019 has been called “The Year of the mother”, did you enjoy being part of that?
Nia Ali: Being a mother is my life! It’s a lifestyle issue. I don’t really think about it like “I’m doing this as a mother” but I do like being an inspiration. And a lot of mothers come to me and ask me about my journey and I really enjoy talking to them. At college I majored in psychology so I’m all about the mindset and mental strength. I really love uplifting mothers and parents in general.
12. Have you been excited to see Shelly-Ann, Allyson and others succeed as well?
Nia Ali: Yes. You can come back. It’s not event specific not even sport specific. I think that is really encouraging for a lot of people – because people do count you out when you’ve had a baby. And I think it’s been encouraging for a lot of people. And I was dealing with that even with my second pregnancy. It was like “one time OK but not twice for sure”. But that just gave me more drive and more motivation. And I had a daughter the second time and I want to show her, “Hey, I did it once. And I’m gonna do it again with you. I’m going to be more determined than ever. I’m not going to let up. And I don’t want you ever to think that you’re the cause of anything not happening for me”. I think that was a turning point for a lot of people.
13. What’s your life like now?
Nia Ali: I wake up about 6.00am and get the kids ready for school. I take them and come back, cook get myself ready. Typically I train 10-11ish through to 3.00 PM. Then I have to rush home clean up, cook dinner, do little odds and endsy things so that I can be present when my children come home and not have to think about being tired. I am always tired but that is my new normal. But I try to embrace that and be as present as I can and have energy to work with them and to take them to activities. My son takes French on Sundays and does after school activities like piano. Both children swim. I just try to keep them in as many different things as possible. That’s fun for me and it’s great to watch them grow. That’s my motivation to keep going.