“Someone like her only comes along once a career.” —Rick Sloan

Ellannee Richardson had just run the race of her life: a blistering 800-meter time of 2 minutes, 12.04 seconds, a personal record, in the final event of the heptathlon at June’s NCAA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento.

It should have been enough for Richardson, a redshirt senior at Washington State University, to win her first NCAA title.

But in the world of track and field, you can never fully control what anyone else does. And as Richardson caught her breath, just 13 seconds after she crossed the line, her dream ended.

Needing a 27-second victory over leader Hyleas Fountain of Georgia, Richardson fell 14 oh-so-close seconds short.

A disappointment? Of course.

But a failure? Not if you know Ellannee Richardson.

“I guess I can’t be that disappointed,” she says. “It was a personal best score, and at the same time I did come in with a goal of winning a national championship. But Fountain performed great, and I did finish second nationally.”

Richardson still set a personal record with 5,839 points in the seven events. She placed second in the country for the second consecutive year. She helped the Cougar women’s track and field team to its best finish-12th place-in 17 years.

Most remarkable of all, the 5-foot-7 All-American was in position to be crowned the nation’s best female athlete.

 ”The pain was always there,” she says. “I knew that if I was going to compete, I couldn’t use it as an excuse.”

The pain started before her sophomore year. Recurring hip and back pains were so severe it affected her training. Some days she couldn’t practice certain events, other days she couldn’t practice at all. As a result, Richardson redshirted.

But you never heard a peep from her. There was never any self-pity. She just kept going about her work.

Doctors and trainers originally thought it was fibromyalgia, a syndrome that causes fatigue and pain in muscles, ligaments, and tendons. That diagnosis would have ended her career, but proved to be incorrect, though no one has been able to give her an alternative diagnosis.

Even for a competitor as fierce as Richardson, the situation was tough, but she had a wide support group on campus that helped her cope.

“The coaching staff and my teammates, as well as my boyfriend and best friend, were really instrumental in helping me get through it all,” she says. “I’ve been really fortunate.”

When she returned to competition, Richardson would win three consecutive Pac-10 heptathlon titles, place second nationally twice, and is in the top five all-time in nine different events at WSU.

“When we started recruiting this past year my assistant, Mark Macdonald, told me it was an end of an era,” Sloan says. “We started looking at how many people it would take to replace what she did. Someone like her only comes along once a career.”

Richardson has also stayed focused off the track, earning bachelor’s degrees in sociology and criminal justice. Named a second-team Academic All-American this year, she returns this fall to complete her master’s degree in criminal justice.

As for her post-WSU plans, track may still be an option, but ultimately Richardson would like to work in social services, preferably child services.

“I’ve always liked working with kids,” says Richardson, who came to WSU from Gladstone, Oregon. “I feel bad when I see kids in bad situations. I really just want to make a difference.”

If her time in Pullman is any indication, she already has.

Just before going to press, WSM received word that
Richardson had been named assistant track and field coach at WSU.
She began work August 1.