Nia Ali was sleeping in her North Hollywood, Calif., apartment last Monday when an earthquake measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale rumbled through the Los Angeles area, jolting her awake.
"I've been through a few earthquakes since I've been out here," the former Pleasantville resident said Tuesday in a phone interview. "But nothing like that one. They said it was 4.4, but I think it was worse than that. I've never felt anything like that one."
A week earlier, Ali had delivered her own shock waves.
She stunned the track and field community at the World Indoor Championships on March 8 in Sopot, Poland. The 2006 Pleasantville High School graduate won the 60-meter hurdles, upsetting heavily favored Sally Pearson, of Australia, in the process.
Ali, 27, became the second former Cape-Atlantic League athlete to win a world championship in an Olympic sport in the last 16 years. In 1998, swimmer Bill Pilczuk - who grew up in Cape May Point and went to Lower Cape May Regional High School - snapped Russia's Alexander Popov's seven-year winning streak with a victory in the 50-meter freestyle at the World Swimming Championships in Perth, Australia.
Ali's victory was no less stunning. Pearson won the gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and was the defending 60-meter indoor world champion after winning that event in Istanbul in 2012.
Ali tied her personal best by running 7.80 seconds while Pearson crossed in 7.85. According to Alltime-Athletics.com, only five American women - LoLo Jones, Gail Devers, Brianna Rollins and Katie Wells - have ever run faster times.
"It still hasn't sunk in for me yet," Ali said. "Every time I see someone new and they ask me about it, the emotions come back. I'm still enjoying the moment."
Ali doesn't remember precisely how she accomplished the feat, however.
She timed the starting gun perfectly and got out to a terrific start that left her slightly behind Pearson after the first of the six hurdles. Two hurdles later, she was even with her rival.
"By the fifth hurdle, I blacked out," Ali said with a laugh. "I was so excited that I actually leaned too early at the finish line. I looked up at the scoreboard and just prayed. I definitely knew I was getting a medal, but I didn't know which one."
Her coach knew right away.
Ryan Wilson watched the race from his perch at the top of the arena.
He watched Ali burst from the starting blocks as if her shoes had springs on the bottoms and pump her arms like pistons as she glided over the hurdles.
"I could see the race clear as day from where I was," Wilson said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "She executed just like we had planned. She got off to a great start, and by the fourth or fifth hurdle, she was (even) with Sally.
"I wasn't surprised at all that she won. I knew Nia had an excellent shot at it because of the way she had prepared. Surprised isn't the word. Thrilled is more like it."
Wilson, who won a silver medal in the 2013 Outdoor World Champ-ionships in the 110-meter high hurdles, has been Ali's coach for the last 16 months.
The two used to train together when Wilson was a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Southern California and Ali was competing for the Trojans. Then, Ali asked if he would be her full-time coach.
"We're both pretty laid-back and have pretty free attitudes, but we're also different," Wilson said. "Nia loves to dance and likes the performance arts. She also tends to go with the flow and is nice to everybody. I'm not as outgoing, and I tend to stick to my own tight-knit group of friends. But we work well together. Like any good relationship, you need trust, respect and communication, and we have all that.
"The most important thing is she has entrusted me with her career, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that."
Ali's positive attitude has helped make her one of the world's elite hurdlers.
After winning the NCAA 100-meter championships for USC in 2011, she competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, won the 2013 U.S. Indoor Championship at 60 meters and placed third in the 2013 U.S. Nationals outdoors at 100 meters before her huge accomplishment this month.
She has more goals in mind for the next few years.
Ali, who is sponsored by Nike and represented by Doyle Management Group, bypassed a rematch with Pearson this week in Australia to begin training for the outdoor season. Her first meet will be the Drake Relays in Iowa on April 26.
"I'd love to be running in the Penn Relays, but they don't have my event there," said Ali, who grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. "I think I went there every year for 16 years. I use to run races on the infield as a kid."
She also is pointing to the 2015 outdoor World Championships in Beijing, and then will try to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
She will attempt to become the first CAL alum to compete in the Olympics since Bridgeton graduate Shana Williams, who was in the long jump in the 1996 and 2000 Games.
Always on the lookout for new challenges, Nia may also try some other events and sports.
She plans to return to the heptathlon after 2016 and is even thinking of joining Jones and sprinter Lauryn Williams on the U.S. Olympic bobsled team.
"LoLo is a very good friend of mine, and she had been talking to me about trying it," Ali said. "I actually had planned to go to their camp before this year's Winter Olympics, but once I made the world team in the hurdles, that got put on the back burner. I'd definitely like to give it a try."
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