Heaven Chandler was ready to enter her senior year of high school as one of the top all-around high school athletes in Iowa. A severe knee injury that would end the career for many athletes proved to be just a detour on Chandler’s road to success.
By the end of her junior year in high school, Columbus Community High School’s Chandler had qualified to the Drake Relays nine times, placing fourth in the long jump in 2011. She made the trip to Drake’s Blue Oval 12 times for the state track meet, bringing home eight medals, two of them gold.
This five-foot-nothing bundle of energy was one of the best all-around athletes to ever wear Columbus’ blue and white. It was common knowledge that track and field was her bread and butter — her ticket to competing at the next level. But in an effort to become a better basketball player, Chandler attended a basketball camp at Iowa State University in early June 2013.
When she came home from Ames, her dreams were shattered. She had torn her ACL, a knee injury that required major surgery, is career ending for many and requires up to 12 months of rehab for most.
Chandler did not fall into either category.
“When I found out the severity of the injury, I was more down than I could recall ever being in my athletic career,” Chandler said.
With rehab seven days per week, Chandler attacked this opponent, and began to wonder if there was a chance she could compete in her final track season as a Wildcat. She believed she could. Track coaches Jeff Gilmore and Deb Carlson were hoping she could, but also knew that competing again, at Columbus, was a real reach for the co-valedictorian of the class of 2013.
It was a slow meticulous process, but make it back she did. She wasn’t able to qualify to the Drake Relays for the first time in four years, but she did advance to the state track meet for the 13th time, qualifying in her specialty, the long jump. She medaled for the third time in her career by placing eighth (she placed first in 2010 and 2012).
Although she made it to the state meet one final time, Chandler was far from where she thought she might be at this point in her career. The knee needed much more rehabilitation if she was ever to get back to where she once was.
She enrolled at the University of Iowa, attended classes and worked out on her own, doing everything she could to make her injured knee stronger. After sitting out of athletics for a full year, something she had never done before, she couldn’t take it anymore. She lined up a meeting with University of Iowa Associate Head Coach Clive Roberts and convinced him to give her a chance. He didn’t promise her anything but an opportunity. That is all she wanted.
Chandler began working out with the team at the start of the 2014-15 season. She was behind in conditioning, she had difficulty getting her steps right in the long jump and her trail leg in the hurdles needed immediate attention if she was ever going to make it at this level.
“When the surgeon told me that I may never run at a high level again, I was more mad that he thought he could tell me that,” said Chandler. “He said the mental aspect may be harder than the physical therapy. It became my mission to prove I was not your average person and would overcome this setback and do what I wanted.”
Chandler was not able to contribute a lot on the track her first two seasons with the Hawkeyes, but was a big contributor this past season, as a junior, to a Division I program that is on the rise.
As she began her junior season her hard work and dedication continued to pay off and she was rewarded by the Iowa coaching staff by being put on scholarship. At the recently held UI track and field and cross country banquet, Chandler reaped a number of awards.
She was a track and field letter winner, an Academic All Big 10 selection, a Big 10 Distinguished Scholar and the female Keatinge/Cretzmeyer Award winner as the top walk on. She finished 2017 on Iowa’s All Time lists in the 100 hurdles (#9), 60 hurdles (#5) and the Pentathlon (#10).
Chandler has a tough decision to make going into the 2017-18 school year. She has been accepted into the University of Iowa Law School, and will receive a full scholarship, which means finding time to compete in a Division I sport may be hard to come by.
Chandler, one of seven children, has had to overcome a rather large obstacle to get where she is today and there doesn’t appear to be anything out there that is big enough to make her turn back now.