Aaliyah Crawford is tall, muscular and lean. She has a shy smile, but she likes to laugh. When asked, “What in the world made you want to become a sprinter” — the question coming from a non-athlete, of course — she snickered before answering, “I like to go fast.”

That makes sense. She even talks rapidly and had to pause every now and again to let me catch up on my note taking. She’s a hugger, too. After talking about how homesick we sometimes get — her for California, me for Tennessee — she threw her arms around me and said how nice it was to talk to me. She’s a paradox, of sorts, gentle, but fierce.

It’s toughness that gets Crawford through her meets. Although she makes running look easy, it’s not. It’s painful. Crawford was diagnosed with scoliosis — a sideways curvature of the spine — during a physical examination in eighth grade. A year later, despite the disorder, she decided to try track and field at her high school, Citrus Hill, in California.

“I thought running would be cool,” Crawford said. “So, I tried it. Some of the races were really hard, but I started winning. The track meets were a lot of fun for me because I’m very, very competitive. I like to win.”

But as a sophomore in high school, she began to have spasms, only while running. That didn’t stop her. “I just kept going because, well, why not?” she said, smiling. “I learned to push through. I learned not to focus on the pain, that if the spasms happen, they happen.”

Weber State was the only university to offer Crawford a scholarship. In her freshman year at WSU, she began to win event after event, even earning Big Sky Conference Track Athlete of the Week accolades.

But the spasms, unfortunately, were too much to bear during the 2016 indoor Big Sky Conference championship. Crawford had qualified for the 200- and 400-meter races but had to pull out. “I was so irritated, so heartbroken,” she said. “I didn’t want to run, knowing I’d come in last place, but still, deep down, I wanted to run, I needed to run because I love to run.”  

Crawford made an incredible comeback in the outdoor championship, setting a new Big Sky Conference record in the 200-meter race, posting a winning time of 23.41.

“You can do whatever you want to do if you work hard,” she said, crediting her success to her coaches, physical therapists and teammates. “You really can. And when you do, it’s an amazing feeling.”