It was the ending to a dream season that Payson native Summer Allen didn’t think would be a reality: competing in the steeplechase at the 2021 Olympic Trials.
Allen, who currently runs for Weber State University, comes from a running family. In fact, her parents are Hawk and Cheryl Harper of Orem who own Runner’s Corner and have their own stellar running resumes. Her older brother, Golden Harper is the founder of Altra running shoes, and her sisters, Amber and Krystal each had successful collegiate and post-collegiate careers.
Even so, Allen forged her own unique path in the competitive running world.
Born in Payson, Allen’s family moved to Orem, where she eventually became a star distance runner at Orem high school, earning a scholarship to Weber State in the fall of 2013. A much needed running break came in the form of an 18-month Latter-day Saint mission a year later to Roseville, Calif.
Upon her return, she took time getting back into shape, and entered her first steeplechase race in March of 2017 and according to Allen, it went poorly.
“My coach said that if my technique didn’t drastically improve I wouldn’t be doing the steeplechase,” Allen said. “I worked really hard after that using visualization and staying after practice and having people film me and give me pointers so I could improve my technique. I really wanted to do steeplechase. Part of me was also trying to avoid the 10K on the track though. I knew if I didn’t do the steeple I would most likely get put in the 10K, and so that gave me even more motivation.
Allen did well in her return to college athletics but was plagued by some nagging injuries that prevented her from progressing like she wanted to. And in 2019 and 2020, two life-changing events shifted her focus: marriage and motherhood.
“I got married in June of 2019 and got pregnant right away right when I was starting to feel really fit again,” Allen said. “We had our son Miles at the end of February 2020 right before the pandemic shut everything down. My husband also runs for Weber and was actually an All American.”
It was watching her husband compete at nationals in 2019, that gave Allen the drive she needed to get back at it.
“My husband took 14th at nationals in 2019 when I was about six months pregnant,” Allen said. “It was such an inspiring race to watch, that I decided I wanted to come back and do the same as him. He is one of my biggest inspirations and my biggest support although we both have lots of support from family and friends.”
“I didn’t know for sure that I’d go back to college and compete after having the baby, but I knew I wanted to and my husband just kept reminding me that something would work out. We knew we just needed to trust God and know he had a plan for our family. Luckily running was still part of that plan because it worked out better than we could have planned. I also drew strength from others who had had babies in college and kept running at a high level.”
That high level included competing at The NCAA national cross country meet in March where she earned the title of All-American like her husband; making the finals at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships where she earned a school and Big Sky Conference record in the steeplechase of 9:37.48. That time qualified her for the Olympic Trials.
At the Trials, Allen finished 11th place at the final that took place the evening of June 24 in Eugene, Oregon.
“It has been so incredible competing at this level,” Allen said. “I think I knew it was inside me somewhere to be able to run this well but if you would have told me I’d be where I am now a year ago, I probably would have laughed. I have always wanted to run at this level but it didn’t really all click until this year. This is better than I imagined. My husband and coach also challenged me to set bigger goals early on so that I could visualize myself running at a higher level and work towards those goals sooner. It was all a process though that took time and patience.”
Allen said that she drew inspiration from other mothers and would like to offer other mothers encouragement to not give up on their dreams.
“I would like to tell other mothers that if they have a goal that they’ve always wanted to accomplish, if they start out small and are consistent they can reach those goals,” she said. “Having a baby was super empowering for me. It taught me to be more mentally tough and to also have more balance. I realized that if I didn’t run well it wasn’t the end of the world and that I still had a family that loves me. That helped take some of the pressure off in a good way.”
As for what’s next, she is going to look back on this year with nothing but gratitude, and she looks forward to rest and time with her family.