Kathy Ormsby began the 10,000-meter run in the NCAA championships Wednesday night with the expectation of victory. Unable to keep pace with the field, she left the track and was found later beneath a bridge, suffering from a spinal cord injury.
Ormsby, a junior at North Carolina State, was in serious condition today in the surgical intensive care unit at Wishard Memorial Hospital, 10 blocks from the spot where she was found by her coach, Rollie Geiger.
What transpired could not be determined conclusively. The campus police at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis, who have jurisdiction, reported the incident as an attempted suicide.
"Apparently, she left the track stadium and people believed she had just continued to jog after dropping out," said Lt. Doug Cox. "She jogged toward the New York Street bridge and then did jump off the bridge. She was discovered by her coach, Rollie Geiger, and she did say to him at that time that she did jump off the bridge."
Asked about a possible motive, Cox said: "The speculation is that she is a perfectionist and she didn't think she had done very well. She felt despondent because of the way she was running."
"I found her, but I don't want to talk about it any further," said Geiger, who had been seen searching for Ormsby in the training area outside the track after the conclusion of the 10,000, the last event of the night.
The Associated Press quoted an "unidentified track official" as saying that Ormsby, after leaving the race, had crossed a softball field on the west side of the stadium, then plunged off the bridge that carries New York Street over the White River. "Her coach went looking for Ormsby . . . He thought she was crying," the official said. "He was worried. He then decided to go by the river. And there she was."
The police report said Ormsby was found about 20 yards from the water on a flood plain. The grassy spot was at least 40 feet below the bridge, and police said that because of the location and the nature of the injuries, she could not have reached it from the bank.
Police said there was neither evidence of foul play nor conclusive evidence that she had jumped from the bridge, which is about a quarter-mile west of the stadium.
"It sounds like a big mystery. I've been hearing different things," said hospital spokeswoman Karen Wilczewski. "It is the hospital's role to provide what information we can, but at the present time I can issue only a statement that the family requested we make public."
The statement read: "Kathy Ormsby has suffered a spinal injury with spinal cord damage and chest injuries. We are unsure at the present time if the damage is permanent. She will be undergoing further testing.
"Kathy is awake and alert. Any changes in her condition will be released as soon as information becomes available."
Ormsby, 21, is a junior from Rockingham, N.C., and on the dean's list at N.C. State. A pre-med student, she planned to become a medical missionary. A North Carolina high school champion at 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters, Ormsby was not rated as high as N.C. State teammates Connie Jo Robinson, Janet Smith and Suzie Tuffey until April 24, when she made a spectacular breakthrough by setting a collegiate record of 32 minutes 36.2 seconds for 10,000 meters at the Penn Relays.
As a result of that race, Ormsby was listed as the favorite in the NCAA meet by Track and Field News. However, she was unable to keep up with the leading trio of Stephanie Herbst, Christine McMiken and Ellen Reynolds and left the race with 3,400 meters -- 8 1/2 laps -- remaining.
Herbst broke Ormsby's collegiate mark by winning Wednesday's race in 32:32.75.
A reporter who has seen the 5-foot-5, 108-pound Ormsby run on several occasions described her as "extremely shy and very religious. She is a perfectionist -- dean's list, running, everything. She is a quiet, reserved person who would do anything in the world to help another person. After her races, she was always giving credit to others."
After her Penn Relays performance, Ormsby told Track and Field News: "One thing that has helped me is not placing so much importance on my performances and trying to please other people. I just have to learn to do my best for myself and for God, and to turn everything over to Him. And it seems like I have been able to do that better this track season than ever before."