Catherine ‘Annie’ Carey, with eye on Paralympic Games, competing internationally and for Mount St. Mary’s women’s track and field

Catherine ‘Annie’ Carey, with eye on Paralympic Games, competing internationally and for Mount St. Mary’s women’s track and field

When she was 14 years old, Catherine Ann Carey had already been participating in track and field for seven years. So her mother sat her down and said she would support her if she wanted to walk away and simply relax.

“I knew that she understood me a lot and that if I wanted to end this, she would be very understanding and supportive in that decision,” said Carey, who prefers being called “Annie.” “It was just very nice to have her behind me.”

Sarah Carey remembered a different reaction from her daughter.

“She burst into tears, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, have we been pushing her to do this?’” she said. “She was like, ‘No, I’m getting a gold medal some day.’ I misread the whole thing.”

In a rare instance of daughter knows best, Annie Carey is moving closer to achieving her objective. At last month’s 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile, the Mount St. Mary’s freshman captured bronze medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the long jump.

Carey, who was born in Datong, China, with a left clubfoot before being adopted by her family in Boise, Idaho, has represented the United States at three international track and field competitions for athletes with physical disabilities. After making her debut at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, she won a bronze in the 100 at the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland.

Mountaineers track and field director Jay Phillips said Carey is making the kind of progress he would expect from a first-year athlete.

“I’m excited for her,” he said. “I think she’s going to get better, and she’s already a blessing for this team, and she’s only going to be more of a blessing the better she gets.”

Blessed seems an apt description for Geoff and Sarah Carey, who have raised Max, a 22-year-old fifth-year senior at Georgia Tech, McKay, a 21-year-old senior at Iowa, and Will, a 19-year-old sophomore at Idaho. But a week before Will was born in August 2004, Geoff and Sarah agreed they would adopt their next child.

Through an adoption agency, Geoff and Sarah Carey were given a list with six names of babies in China. Each child had a physical disability, but photographs were not provided unless requested. A baby named “Erin” listed with a clubfoot caught Sarah’s eye.

“I was like, ‘Well, my younger brother [John] had a clubfoot. That’s nothing,’” she said. “Then the picture came through, and I looked at it, and I thought, ‘Well, this looks like my kid.’”

After bringing Annie home in May 2006 when she was 20 months old, Geoff and Sarah Carey consulted a doctor who massaged the baby’s left foot forward until it could undergo serial casting and then an operation during which the Achilles tendon was severed to allow the toes to open. One side effect was nerve damage that required Annie to wear an ankle foot orthosis.

Annie said some of her earliest memories involve running around outside with her siblings and neighbors. She said she didn’t think much of the brace on her left foot until she was about 6 years old.

Sports was an outlet for Carey. She began playing soccer and basketball when she was 5 years old and added swimming and track and field two years later.

“I can definitely say that without sports, I wouldn’t be as comfortable or confident with who I am,” she said. “When I play sports, it’s a way for me to forget about it.”

Mount St. Mary's freshman track and field athlete Catherine
Mount St. Mary’s freshman track and field athlete Catherine “Annie” Carey wears an ankle foot orthosis after undergoing surgery on her left clubfoot. (Courtesy of Mount St. Mary’s University/Handout)

When she was 7, Carey watched Oscar Pistorius become the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics when he participated in the 400 and 1,600 relay at the 2012 Summer Games in London. From that moment, she was inspired.

“I think it was the thought that he looked like he could do anything at that time, and I just really wanted to do that,” she said, adding that her current role model is Scout Bassett, another American paralympian who was adopted from China. “That’s when I made it my goal to make it to the Paralympics one day and win a gold medal.”

Carey was on pace to compete in the 2020 U.S. Paralympic trials for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, which had been pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But in December 2020, she had to undergo a 12-level spinal fusion operation to correct scoliosis of her back.

During the recruiting process, Carey was interested in Idaho, Massachusetts, Chapman and Depauw. But she chose Mount St. Mary’s because she said coaches such as Phillips, Jim Stevenson and Josh Poole promised to help her train for NCAA and Paralympic competition.

Phillips, who credited assistant coach Roger An with discovering Carey, said her brace was not a disincentive to bring her onto the team.

“It’s not hard for us to make adjustments,” he said. “It takes extra time that I guess a lot of programs didn’t want to deal with. But for us, her work ethic, her character, who she is fits the university and fits the program.”

On Wednesday, Carey was named the U.S. Paralympics Track Athlete of the Year and, for the second consecutive year, a High School All-American. Sarah Carey said she has watched track and field help transform her daughter.

“It’s given her confidence, it’s taught her to be a leader, it’s helped her to become a mentor,” she said. “She’s become a really mature and beautiful young lady who has learned how to mentor other young ladies who have learned to see themselves as less, not more.”

Because she was in Chile in late November, Annie Carey missed the Mountaineers’ season-opening track meets at Navy and Bucknell on Dec. 2, but Phillips said he anticipates she will make her debut next month. Carey said her goal is to train for the World Para Athletics Championships May 17-25 in Kobe, Japan, the U.S. Paralympic trials July 18-21 in Chula Vista, California, and the Paralympic Games Aug. 28-Sept. 8 in Paris.

Carey said she is grateful for what she has found at Mount St. Mary’s.

“It’s really nice to be a part of this community, and I think I’ve grown a lot more since being here,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot more about sports and who I am, and it’s a really nice opportunity I would not want to miss out on.”

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