F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life, but race walker and former Brooksville resident Teresa Vaill is proving him dead wrong.
Vaill, who wintered in Florida from 1990-92, recently broke her own American record in the 10,000-meter walk at the USA/Mobil Track and Field Championships, securing a spot on the national team that's headed to Gothenburg, Sweden, in August for the World Championships.
The 33-year-old has never been better nor her future brighter than right now. In 1992, she was considered a favorite to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, but disaster struck at the Olympic Trials when a severe asthma attack forced her to drop out of the 10,000 less than halfway through the race.
Devastated, Vaill seriously considered retiring. But she rededicated herself to the sport and the decision has proven to be a wise one. A shortened stride, in part, has allowed her to get faster as she has gotten older, a statistical anomaly in track and field.
A six-time indoor national champion, Vaill was invariably a runner-up outdoors to rival Debbi Lawrence. In the last couple of years, however, Vaill has seen a dramatic reduction in her times and has replaced Lawrence as the premier women's race walker in America.
Vaill broke through at the 1994 USA/Mobil Track and Field Championships by shattering the American record in the 10,000 held by Lawrence. She finished in 45:01.46, bettering the previous mark by an astonishing 26 seconds.
Track and Field News ranked her No. 1 in the nation in 1994, a billing she more than lived up to at this year's USA/Mobil Championships June 18 in Sacramento, Calif. There, Vaill sliced a few 10ths-of-a-second off her own record, finishing in 45:01.00 to win by more than 15 seconds over Michelle Rohl and by close to 45 seconds over Lawrence, who ended up third.
Vaill still races occasionally in Florida, but has left Brooksville behind for her hometown of Pine Plains, N.Y., and the dairy farm she grew up on. While living in this area, she and her twin sister Lisa, one of the top marathoners in the nation, trained on seldom-used Barclay Avenue west of Brooksville and northeast of Spring Hill, taking advantage of Florida's temperate winter climate.
Vaill stands a good chance of finishing in the top 10 at the World Championships in August and setting the stage for her own second act at next year's Summer Olympics in Atlanta.