Going Places

By Carol Olechowski

UAlbany track-&-field sensation Grace Claxton is going places. In fact, her athletic ability and determination have already taken her all the way to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she competed in the women’s 400-meter hurdles – an event she took up only last year.

Grace Claxton
 Bill Ziskin

Coach Roberto Vives “introduced me to the 400m hurdle, which we know will take me places,” Claxton says. “The first big stop was the Olympics. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

The San Juan, Puerto Rico, native prepared for the summer games by doing “the usual: practice at the track, lifting weights at the gym, resting, and eating well-balanced meals.” In addition, “my coach kept pushing me and believing in me. Eventually, I started to believe that this event just might be the event I was supposed to be doing,” recalls Claxton, a senior public-health major and the University’s first female Olympian.

For Claxton, 23, the Summer Olympics capped a year of outstanding performances that included participation in the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. A fifth-place finish at the NCAA East Preliminary Championships in Florida last May, combined with a personal-best time of 55.90, earned her a berth in the NCAA Outdoor Championships and a spot on Puerto Rico’s Olympic team.

Grace Claxton competes at the Olympics in Rio
In Rio, Claxton placed 14th overall in a field of 24. She also set a new personal-best time of 55.85. “I’m very happy how I ended my season,” she says.  Getty Images

Claxton transferred from Sagrado Corazón in San Juan to the University at Albany two years ago. “The UAlbany team goes to Puerto Rico every spring break to compete,” she notes, “and when I first saw them, I felt like I was with my family.”

The University is “a great school,” observes Claxton, who minors in business. “I love that the school is so diverse and everyone is friendly.” She also praises Vives as “a very humble and encouraging man. He treats everyone the same. No doubt he is the nicest person ever.” Asked about her post-UAlbany plans, Claxton responds: “I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’m just taking it one day at a time.” In the meantime, she will continue training for the next Summer Olympics; “my goal is Toyko 2020.”

After stopping home briefly to visit family on her way back from Brazil, Claxton returned to UAlbany Aug. 28 for the start of the fall semester.