Kala Funderburk shot out of the blocks in the 400 meters, surging to the lead at the NCAA East Preliminary Championships on May 29. Her start was good, her form was even better.
Gaining speed, the Florida State redshirt junior curled around the track comfortably ahead of the other competitors in her quarterfinal heat and won with ease.
Afterward, Funderburk raised her hands in disbelief, knowing the perfect race had just unfolded beneath her feet. It was a moment of unfiltered joy, not only for her win but for her time.
Funderburk ran a season-best 51.09 seconds, currently No. 3 among NCAA women, No. 5 in the United States and No. 7 in the world. It vaulted the former Lakewood High standout to the top seed in her signature event at the NCAA Track and Field Championships, which start today for the women in Eugene, Ore.
"I was probably the most shocked in the whole stadium after I hit that time," Funderburk said. "I didn't know if I could go that fast. I ran what was then a season-best 51.72 in my heat the day before. All I was trying to do was execute my race and win my heat.
"It's just amazing, especially to see my progression from high school to now."
At Lakewood, Funderburk was a solid runner who missed out on winning state titles. In 2011, she took third in the 400, her highest finish at a state meet.
Her college career started at Memphis, where she was a six-time Conference USA selection and set the school indoor (53.96) and outdoor (52.59) records in the 400. But after two years with the Tigers, Funderburk left following the 2013 season to transfer to FSU.
"The program and the coaches were great, but I was starting to get homesick," Funderburk said. "The location, being away from Florida, it started to weigh on me. Plus, the budget wasn't always there to go to some of the bigger meets in the summer that would allow me to run against strong competition and gain more exposure."
Because Funderburk transferred, she had to sit out last season. Still, she put in the work, running in a series of meets as an unattached athlete.
The results were encouraging. Funderburk reached the 400 semifinals at the USATF Championships in a then-best time of 51.87, her first time running under 52 seconds. She also was on Team USA's 4x400 relay team that took gold at the NACAC Under-23 Championships.
There were times in Funderburk's career when it seemed the finish she wanted so badly on the biggest stages was locked in a vault and no one would tell her the combination. There were injuries and illnesses, poor starts and imperfect form.
But after a summer filled with tough competition, Funderburk is starting to figure it out.
"I knew I was getting stronger," she said. "The more I was able to run, the more I was able to piece together each race, see how I was out of the blocks, where my arms were, those sort of things. That way I could learn and try to run more an even better race the next time out.
"But the biggest thing overall was having the confidence that I could win in big meets. It was something that was missing going back to high school. I would get nervous and the environment would overwhelm me. Being older and more mature, I've learned to gain composure and just run. Hopefully that gets me to an NCAA title."