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'I couldn’t have imagined I’d be living this way' | Anna Cockrell shares her difficult path to Tokyo Olympics

Cockrell is set to compete in the 400-meter hurdles in the 2020 Summer Games.
Credit: AP
Anna Cockrell wins the third heat of the women's 100-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Anna Cockrell almost stepped away from her track and field career. But after taking some time off during the pandemic, she found her way back and started training for the Olympic trials in Charlotte with her high school coach from Providence Day, Coach Carol Lawrence.

“When I did start going back to track specific stuff with Coach Lawrence, I could just do it for the sake of moving and really find my joy and passion in the sport and get grounded again and feel good about it outside of just having a good race or winning a race or winning a meet," Cockrell explained. "I could just feel good for the sake of the movement and really just saying to myself I love hurdling, and it speaks to me in a way that I can't quite explain, but it does."

Now, Cockrell is competing in her first Olympics. 

“I mean I feel great," she said. "I'm really excited, not as overwhelmed as I was when I first got back to LA from trials. So, I feel really good about it. I'm really looking forward to it.”

For Cockrell, her platform is about so much more than inspiring the next generation of track and field athletes, it's about being transparent and encouraging others to push through their most trying moments, which she first did when she shared her own struggles with depression during her commencement speech at the University of Southern California in 2019.

"I just went through that day trying to think of something, trying to write something and everything I was thinking about felt really phony and really surface level and really cliché," Cockrell said.

In that speech, Cockrell shared these words in hopes it could help others: “The two things I don't like to talk about are the fact that I've battled depression on and off since my tenth-grade year and that I am a perfectionist. This perfectionism means that I don't like to ask for help I don't like to seem weak, I don't like to let people know that I struggle.”

“I needed people to be honest with me about their story so that I could be honest with myself about mine," Cockrell told WCNC Charlotte. "And that honesty and vulnerability really gave me a freedom."

She said with time, it's been easier to talk about. 

“I am much more comfortable talking about it now and I have, and I hope that if nothing else, someone who is struggling will be like, 'OK, I’m there right now, she somehow got through it. I don't know how I'm going to get through it but I know it's doable.'”

That decision to be so vulnerable ultimately let her back to her love for track and field.

“When I got to trials and in 2019, I was super depressed I couldn’t have imagined that two years later I would be in a really good space,” Cockrell said. “I couldn’t have imagined I’d be living this way because when you’re in a dark place, it’s hard to even think about what it will even be like when you step into the light.”

Friday night, Cockrell came in third in her heat for the first round of women's 400-meter hurdles, qualifying for the semifinals.

Contact Ashley Stroehlein at astro@wcnc.com and follow her on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.  

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