By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Claire Millard does, indeed, remember her first hurdles race.
“It was terrifying,” she said, a trace of residual horror briefly washing over her face as she recalls the day.
“I had only gone over three hurdles before then, fully, so when I looked down and there’s eight hurdles I was, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s a lot.’ I remember feeling like I was having a heart attack every time I went over a hurdle, but it felt great to finish.”
Darcelle McCutcheon smiled at the re-telling of the story.
“It’s a terrifying event, right?” said McCutcheon, a pretty fair hurdler in her day and now one of Millard’s coaches with the Kingston Track and Field Club.
“You’re not supposed to run as fast as you can at something and then jump over it.”
Last week at the eastern Ontario championships, Millard, from Loyalist Collegiate, won her fourth straight junior girls 80-metre hurdles event. Her time has improved with each passing week, from 12.68 seconds at the Limestone Legacy meet, to 12.27 at EOSSAA.
Confidence is the key to Claire Millard's progress, her coach believes — sportsgate.ca photo
McCutcheon believes much of that improvement is a result of Millard’s growing confidence.
“She believes in herself,” McCutcheon said. “That’s something that has come with time and comfort level with the event, and also all her success. You have to prove to yourself that you’re good at something and when you do, your confidence grows. All of those things have set her up well this year.”
Millard was a sprinter in elementary school, “but I wasn’t really the fastest,” and though she wanted to continue to pursue track in high school, she wasn’t sure she could be successful.
“My Mom did hurdles in high school so she’s, like, ‘Oh, try it,’ so I tried it and I really liked it,” Millard said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It just feels great to finish and know you made it over all the hurdles.”
In Brockville last Friday, Millard said work she’d been doing on her start in practice paid off with a particularly good one. “Since I felt good at the start, it kind of carried over into the rest of the race. If it’s a bad start, it takes a while to get back into it but when I started well the momentum just kind of continued.”
That good start led to a time that was a personal best by 13 one-hundredths of a second. It was the fourth meet in a row where Millard’s time got better.
“She’s progressing nicely,” said McCutcheon, who says Millard deserves all the success she’s achieving.
“Honestly, she’s one of the nicest, most humble, gracious athletes you’ll find,” McCutcheon said. “She’s just an awesome kid. She works hard, she’s very dedicated. She’s definitely found a passion for hurdling.”
McCutcheon said Millard is a gifted athlete—“she’d be good at anything she wants”—but beyond her athleticism is her ability to take advice and translate it into movement.
“It’s an attitude. When you approach a sport with such dedication and such focus, you’re going to get better and that’s exactly what she’s done.”
McCutcheon said Millard is built to be a hurdler—“she has the height and the speed and the stride length”—and while she’s excelling at the 80-metre distance for junior-age competitors, she will continue to do well when the race lengthens to 100 metres next year for seniors.
“The 80s are actually pretty scrunched for her,” McCutcheon said. “She starts a little bit behind the start line because, based on her stride length, she needs a little bit more time to get her eight steps into the first hurdle, and she’s scrunched in between them, so when the 100 lengthens that out a little bit I think that race will be really nice for her.
“That transition next year will be pretty seamless.”
Millard will be competing Friday in Brockville at the East Region meet, the final competition for athletes from Peterborough to the Quebec border to qualify for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championships, where Millard finished 12th as a midget last year.
To get to next month’s provincial gathering in Toronto, competitors will have to finish in the top four in their respective events in the two-day regional meet that begins Thursday at Thousand Islands Secondary School.