Olympian SPRINTS into Tucson - The Explorer: Import

Olympian SPRINTS into Tucson

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Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

In the weeks following the 1988 Olympics, LaTanya Sheffield found herself lying in bed, unable to sleep, thinking about what could have been.

Sheffield had made her mark as one of the fastest women in the United States, despite her 8th place finish in her signature event, the 400-meter hurdles. Coming off a brilliant college career, she was the No. 1 woman in her field, but taking solace in that couldn't stop depression from still setting in. She found herself left to ponder 'What if?"

What if she hadn't been so determined just to get to the Olympic games. What if she hadn't been so consumed by being the last remaining woman sprinter representing her nation and by the overwhelming crowd chanting "USA, USA." What if she had just said "go out and win."

What if?

"That was my lesson in goal setting," said Sheffield, after day one of her three-day sprint camp held at Cañada del Oro Riverfront Park. Sheffield's hard lesson on the track is the heart and soul behind her new passion in life, teaching kids to get faster.

"I try to teach the kids to don't say 'just.' Set your goals high; set them so unbelievably high," boasts Sheffield.

Sheffield's camp on June 28-30 is just one of the many year-round sprint camps taught by the former Olympian. On this particular June evening, Sheffield's crew consists of 11 sprinters, ranging in age from 8 to 14 years old. The group of eight girls and three boys, including Sheffield's two daughters, Jaide, age 8 and Kala, 12, are running time trials down hill to learn how to control their speed.

Over the next three days, the campers will focus their 90-minute sessions on stretching to increase flexibility and sprinting drills emphasizing running forward, backward and from side-to-side.

Sheffield explains to the class that the key to sprinting is a balance between power and relaxation. She's as friendly and outgoing as she is fast and the kids readily buy into her energetic lessons.

"She's very enthusiastic," said Matt Noble, who is here to watch his son Austin, 8, work on the speed he inherited from his dad. "She knows how to teach running and that it's not just how to get from here to there."

Austin, a baseball player in the Coronado Little League, is like many of the kids in Sheffield's camps and not here for track and field. Sheffield estimates that up to 90 percent of the kids that join her camps are athletes who realize the importance of speed in sports such as baseball, softball, basketball and Pop Warner football.

"I can't promise you that you'll catch that ball or slam dunk or be able to hit a line drive," said Sheffield of the pledges of her camp. "But I will promise you that you'll get there."

Sammy Hahn is a natural born sprinter who loves to run and is soaking in all Sheffield has to teach.

"I'm hoping to get some tips to make me a faster runner and learn some better stretches," said Hahn, a 12-year old avid track runner from Townsend Middle School in Tucson.

Hahn is making her first appearance at Sheffield's camp, but if history is any indication it won't be her last. Sheffield estimates that up to 90 percent of the kids who participate in her camps return to future camps.

Although this week's camp will only run for three days, it is one of a series of sprint camps held at the end of each month this summer. The next camp is scheduled for July 20-22. Those who can't make it out to the summer camps have a chance to catch Sheffield's annual sports clinic in February.

The February camp gives kids the opportunity to learn firsthand from professional athletes. In past years the one-day camp has featured world class athletes such as track and field star, Carlette Guidry, the NFL's Ronnie Harmon, baseball's Kenny Lofton and three-time Olympian and children's book author Tony Campbell.

"What we're trying to do is build community as well," said Sheffield. Her camps encourage children of all ages to come out to get confidence, exercise their minds as well as their bodies and to learn how to get faster. You're never too old to start running, says Sheffield, and if anyone would know it would be the former Olympian who didn't start running track until she was 17-years old and in high school.

From there she went on to college at San Diego State University where she made a name for herself throughout the United States under the tutelage of her head coach and older brother Rahn Sheffield.

"One thing I never doubted was if he was looking out for the best interest for me," said Sheffield of her brother. "Sometimes as a big brother I thought he was trying to do a power play on me and I would call home and tell my mom. Being the baby of the family, nine times out of 10, I got what I wanted."

Sheffield's mother always advised her to listen to her coach. But separating the coach and athlete relationship from the brother-sister one was no easy task, said Sheffield.

The only separation Sheffield experienced while on the track was herself from the rest of the pack. While at San Diego State she hurdled herself into the American record books in the 400 hurdles with a time of 54.66 seconds, beating track and field legends Jackie Joyner Kersee and Sandra Farmer-Patrick in the process.

Nowadays however, after two decades of competitively sprinting, Sheffield leaves the running up to the kids, and most notably up to her daughters.

Jaide and Kala have inherited their mother's speed, which is obvious at her camp. There's no mistaking the two cruising ahead of most of the camp's sprinters. Both of them will represent the state of Arizona in the upcoming USA Track and Field Regional Championships before qualifying for the Junior Olympics on August 2-7 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Speed isn't everthing when it comes to Sheffield's daughters. Both Jaide and Kala are honor roll students as well as finely tuned athletes.

"We stress immensely, you work hard on the field, you work hard on the books," said Sheffield. "Practice makes perfect? No, perfect practice makes perfect."

Today at her camp, practice may not make perfect, but it's a thorough workout. Sprinters like Austin Noble might go home exhausted but return more confident than ever and certainly a little bit faster. He'll be back, although maybe not during baseball season.

With each camp Sheffield's message of speed continues to spread. Confidence breeds confidence, according to Sheffield, and is highly contagious.

"We need to make America move," she said.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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