SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. - When it was over, Tim Carey looked as if he had fallen down a flight of metal steps.

Or maybe two flights.

Both knees were bruised and bleeding.

His right shoulder was scraped raw.

Carey's pride and hopes took a beating, too. He entered last night's Meet of Champions as the No. 1 seed in the 400-meter hurdles. His sights were set on the fastest time in the country.

But the Washington Township senior crashed to the track as he crossed the second hurdle.

He got up, raced after the rest of the field and fell again, over the eighth hurdle.

By now the field was gone. The race was over.

But Carey got up again, even as his coach yelled for him to stay down, and ran over the final two hurdles and through the finish line.

"I always finish every race," Carey said.

The 400 hurdles was the first event on a damp, cool night at South Plainfield High School.

And the results were the most stunning of the competition.

Carey was coming off a victory in the Group 4 state meet and a time of 52.10 seconds.

He was looking forward to racing against Rahway's Christen Whyte and Passaic Tech's Nicoy Hines, among others.

"I was too excited," Carey said. "My steps got messed up. That's the first time it ever happened to me."

Carey said he was hoping to run under 52 seconds.

He thought he had a shot at the fastest time in the country this season, the 51.89 run by Jordan Rispress of Hilliard (Ohio) at the Penn Relays in April.

But 10 seconds into the race, Carey was on the ground. A few moments later, he was on the ground again.

"That never happened to me before," Carey said.

Washington Township coach Rich Bostwick wanted Carey to stay down after his first fall.

He was yelling for Carey to stay down after his second.

"It was one of those times when I knew he wouldn't listen to the coach," Bostwick said. "That's the kind of athlete that Tim is. He was going to finish. He was determined to finish."

Sports can be funny.

Carey dominated the event this season, establishing himself as the best in South Jersey by a wide margin. He was looking to prove himself as the best in the state last night, and maybe to get that national mark, too.

"I actually think I was catching those guys," Carey said, referring to his effort after his first crash. "But then I was going too fast again, and I got messed up again."

Carey will be fine. He's an excellent student as well as a top athlete.

He's planning to attend Penn and run the 400 hurdles for the Quakers.

Anyone can fall.

It takes a special person to get up and race again.

Twice.

"I've been blessed with the season I've had," Carey said. "Everything happens for a reason. I'll look back and learn from this."

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223 or panastasia@phillynews.com.