At only 18, UT's Stacey-Ann Smith has everything it takes to be one of the world's fastest track and field athletes
It's all so simple when you're 18. You can be sure you're going to succeed because – well, because you always give it 100%, because you don't know the meaning of the word "quit." You've embraced your destiny, and you're taking full responsibility for it.
I hope it doesn't sound like I'm making fun of 18-year-olds. If anything, I admire the abundant faith people that age have in their enormous potential. They know something that the rest of us, as we get older, tend to forget. All those tired clichés about hard work and persistence turn out to be true – so long as you believe in them. And Stacey-Ann Smith does, big time.
When Stacey-Ann was only a freshman in high school, she was already the fastest sprinter in the state of Connecticut. "I was like, 'I'm already the best – I don't need to train.'" She'd do two or three 200-meter runs, not even close to race pace, and call it a day.
By the time she arrived at the University of Texas, Stacey-Ann had cottoned to the idea that this sprinting thing might take something more than raw speed. She might actually need to train. Still, she says she hadn't imagined how brutal Coach Beverly Kearney's first workouts would be. It helped that she immediately started seeing results, especially after Coach Bev bumped her up to the 400. She started off running the race in the high 50s. Last Saturday, at the Texas Twilight meet, she posted a 52.9 – the sixth-fastest collegiate time this year. It wasn't wind-aided, but her fabulously long, multicolored Flo Jo fingernails certainly didn't hurt.
"She's made a big step this year in accepting what it takes to run the event," Kearney says. "Mentally, it definitely is an adjustment, but once you make up your mind that 'this is what I want to do' and 'this is what I'm going to be great at,' it becomes easier. She did that very quickly. She's not afraid of the training, she's not overwhelmed by it, so I know that she will gradually begin to accept the challenges to move from one level to the next."
Stacey-Ann's performance left the guys warming up for their own 400 agog – and more than a little intimidated. "Let's not talk about it," joked a bug-eyed Rodney Rud, a sprinter and middle distance runner from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. "That girl is just a pure athlete." He's right. One glance at Stacey-Ann and you can tell she's made of finer stuff. She radiates that preternatural certitude that all the great runners seem to have. It can seem like cockiness, but really, it's just a matter-of-fact acknowledgment of her enormous potential.
Yes, she's still a long, long way from Sanya Richards' American record of 48.7, but when you're 18 and just coming into your own, dropping seconds every time you step on the track, chasing down those 4.2 seconds that separate you from the record books only seems a matter of time.