Tomorrow (May 11) at UVic’s Centennial Stadium, some of the fastest and strongest high schoolers on the Lower Island put their skills to the test on the track and in the infield.
Among those competing is Colwood resident Cassidy Steen, a 17-year-old middle distance runner who turned heads south of the border last month with a gutsy performance in the 3,000-metre steeplechase event at the Oregon State high school track and field championships in Eugene.
Steen, who attends Mount Douglas secondary, beat Washington State high school champion Emily Wilson in a photo finish by “sticking my chest out” as they crossed the line.
“That was the hardest race I’ve ever done,” Steen said, noting it was the first time she had run that distance. “We were really close the whole way, then she passed me on the last lap, then I passed her with 100 metres to go.”
The steeplechase is a low-profile, but exciting event that sees runners leap four hurdles around the track and one more that has a water barrier. That particular jump can slow some athletes down, but Steen, a talented jumper and accomplished figure skater and dancer, said she has trained specifically for that part of the race and gained time there.
She finished the Oregon race in 11 minutes, 49.17 seconds, a mere .07 seconds faster than the runner-up.
For the Lower Island meet, she’s returning to her strong event, the 1,500 steeplechase for which she’ll be ranked number 2. She was coming off a knee injury during qualifying, but has confidence she’ll qualify for the upcoming Island and provincial championships. She’s also entered in the 800 and 400 metres in the South Island meet, and enters ranked first and second, respectively.
Having set the Island Grade 10 record of 5:23 last year in the 1,500 steeplechase and clocked 5:17 en route to a bronze medal at provincials, she has lofty goals for the next month or so.
“I really want to come out as provincial champion for high school in the 1,500 steeplechase,” she said, adding the U.S. win has given her more confidence. “I want to set the (Island) record for the 1,500 and 800. The 400 is more of a workout for me.” Her qualifying time of 2:22 in the 800 is just three seconds off the record set in 2001, while her best time in the 400 is 1:01.
A competitive figure skater with the Oak Bay club and also a dancer at Mount Doug, Steen has been involved in track and field since Grade 3, but remembers doing the 1K kids race at the TC10K in Grade 1.
These days she’s coached by 1976 Canadian Olympian Dacre Bowen in the Victoria Speed Project. After hearing that Steen would “get bored” running the middle distance races, he decided to give her the added challenge of steeplechase. The move has inspired the young athlete to work hard at improving her times and technique.
While she admits to “getting butterflies,” especially when she know her opponents’ times, she enjoys the drama of a longer race. “It’s just fun having all those people cheering for you. The last lap is the most fun; that’s when the race usually starts.”
The South Island meet gets underway at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The Island meet follows up next Wednesday and Thursday (May 11 and 12) back at UVic, and the B.C. championships are hosted next month in Nanaimo.