COLUMBIA — Shortly after finishing her 2,000-meter race, Amanda Lee sits down on a front-row bleacher in Walton Stadium, soaking wet and barefoot. Her bright blue running shoes sit on the ground nearby.
She dries herself off with a towel she brought to the race and reaches into her bag to find a dry T-shirt to replace her half-wet purple tank top. The 19-year-old runner had just finished competing in the steeplechase Sunday morning in the State Games of Mid-America.
"A lot of people watch steeplechase to see people fall," Lee said, laughing. "And that's one reason that I like it too, because you never know what's going to happen. People trip over the hurdles and fall in the water."
In a standard 3,000-meter steeplechase, there are 28 barriers and seven water jumps throughout the course of the race, according to the USA Track & Field Rules. The barriers used in steeplechase differ from hurdles in size and weight. A hurdle falls down when a runner hits it, but a barrier is thicker, wider, heavier and doesn't fall when hit.
"So if you hit them, you're the one that falls down," Lee said.
Some runners actually choose to step on top of the barriers to get over them rather than hurdling.
The water pit directly follows a barrier and is about 12 feet long and 2½ feet deep, gradually sloping upward to even out with the track's surface.
Lee said how wet you get depends on how far out you jump because of how the pit gets shallower farther away from the barrier. Her bright blue running shoes are covered with a breathable mesh material on the top, while the bottom of the shoes have holes to release water.
"You ideally want to get one foot in the water, and you want to get your second foot out. If you can do that, you don't get very wet at all," she said. "Though on hot days, it feels really nice. All of my teammates are always jealous of me on hot days because I get to jump in the water."
Lee is a member of the track team at Middlebury College in Vermont. She has only been competing in steeplechase since April, but said she enjoys it because as a distance runner, it's more exciting than "just going around the track in a lot of circles" and the water jumps add a different element to the race.
"When I first started, I couldn't get very far over (the water pit), so I would get soaked from head to toe. But I'm getting better at it. I only got wet to about here today," she said as she held her hand up to her stomach. "So I'm proud!"
Lee and her family traveled from Lincoln, Neb., where she is originally from, for the third and final weekend of the Show-Me State Games. She competed in Nebraska's Cornhusker State Games earlier this summer, where she won a gold metal in the women's 3,000-meter run.
Athletes from the 14 states that make up the Midwest Region of the National Congress of State Games had the opportunity to compete in the State Games of Mid-America, held in Columbia. Medal winners in the regional competition automatically qualify for the 2009 State Games of America in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Lee earned first place in her age group for the cross country run Saturday, and she was the only woman in the steeplechase, so she received a gold metal by default. Medaling in the events allowed her to meet her goal of qualifying for the State Games of America.
Lee said she would have liked some competition, but she has been in a similar situation before. In her first steeplechase for Middlebury, she was the only competitor in the race and had her own share of water mishaps.
"I fell in the water pit twice, but it wasn't too embarrassing because everybody knew it was my first time," she said. "I just wasn't used to the force of the water holding you in place. Because when you land in it, it just kind of stops you."