Devers-Roberts rises to hurdle win TRACK AND FIELD

June 15, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK -- Four months ago, Gail Devers-Roberts was being carried daily from her bed to her bath by her husband. Yesterday, she was sprinting on her own, soaring over hurdles to win a national track championship at Downing Stadium.

"Faith did this," Devers-Roberts said after winning the women's 100-meter hurdles title in 12.83 seconds at the USA/Mobil Championships.

Her performance culminated one of track's most astonishing comebacks. Nearly three years after being struck in the prime of her career by Graves Disease -- an ailment that leads to an overactive thyroid gland -- Devers-Roberts is back in track's fast-lane and headed to the World Championships in Tokyo on Aug. 23.

"In November, I told Gail, if you get the disease under control by April, we can get you on the national team," her coach, Bobby Kersee, said. "I don't know how she kept the faith."

What began during her bid to make the 1988 Olympic team as periods of sluggishness, accompanied by excessive weight gain, turned into a dire battle against the disease. At first, doctors could not detect her ailment. When it finally was correctly diagnosed in late 1989, doctors told her that she was two weeks away from reaching a cancerous condition.

In the next few months, Devers-Roberts suffered through blood clots the size of silver dollars, radiation therapy that sapped her strength and excessive menstrual periods that kept her home-bound for two months. In February, she developed blisters on her feet from the radiation treatments. At first, a podiatrist said she had athlete's feet. But the condition worsened.

"The sores started oozing with stench, like a fresh-dead cat," said Deevers-Roberts, 24.

She went to another doctor who said her feet were infected, and only medication stood between the infection and amputation. It was then that Devers-Roberts reached her low point, unable to walk, let alone run.

"I sat at home and looked at walls," she said.

She began to jog in May. Her strength and speed returned. Yesterday, she grabbed a title. She laughed and danced on the track. In an interview, she smiled. Graves Disease had become a source of humor, a link between herself and another highly visible victim, President Bush.

"I think I'm his long, lost granddaughter," she said.

* If you set your calendar by the finish of the men's 110-meter high hurdles, you might think you're back in 1980. The event is quickly turning into track and field's old-timer's race.

Greg Foster, 32, Jack Pierce, 28, and Renaldo Nehemiah, 32, finished 1-2-3 to secure spots for Tokyo. Foster even hugged his old nemesis Nehemiah, after winning in 13.29 seconds.

"I made Greg great and he made me greater," Nehemiah said. "We're still out here fighting. We won't move over until someone takes it."

For Nehemiah, who finished in 13.36, the performance was another sign that his long comeback was not in vain. The one-time world record-holder whose Olympic dream was sidetracked by the 1980 U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games, is still feeling the affects of his four-year fling with the San Francisco 49ers.

"If I make an Olympic team, that's great," Nehemiah said. "But 1980, that was stolen from me. Even if I run under 13 seconds again, that will never change."

Why is Nehemiah still competitive long past his peak?

"The other competitors have given me time to comeback," he said. "The sport hit a plateau. if they don't watch out, I might come back and be the best."

* Mary Slaney warmed up. She even took a number. But she didn't race. Complaining of leg cramps, Slaney withdrew from the women's 1,500 meters.

* In the men's 400-meter semifinals, 1988 Olympic gold medalist Steven Lewis pulled up after pulling a leg muscle. Antonio Pettigrew was the fastest qualifier at 45.12.

* Steve Scott, 35, was the fastest qualifier in the men's 1,500 meters at 3:340.83. Joe Falcon was second in 3:42.48.

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