By Dan Plouffe
Asked on the eve of her international debut for Canada at the Commonwealth Youth Games if she prefers the 400 metres of the 400 m hurdles event, Sharelle Samuel’s answer was clear: the barricade-free form of the 400.
“For me with hurdles, I tend to overthink it,” the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club athlete explained during the Canadian Track-and-Field Championships. “It’s one of my weaknesses in hurdles. I have the endurance for it, but figuring how to run the whole race is what I struggle with.”
Samuel wound up figuring it out in a hurry, eclipsing the 1-minute barrier en route to a big personal-best time of 59.59 seconds and a Commonwealth Youth Games silver medal on July 23 in the Bahamas.
That performance came 2 days after Samuel missed the podium by one place in the 400 m, which was the same slim margin that caused Lions teammate Lauren Gale to miss the final in the same event. For Gale, Samuel’s performances never come as a surprise.
“I always expect Sharelle to be at the front,” signalled the former South Carleton High School student. “She has the longest legs ever.”
Gale, who now lives in Denver with her family during the school year (her father is on a military posting there), says it’s a big plus having another international-calibre athlete like Samuel at her side when she comes back to Ottawa during the summer.
“We get to train together and push each other,” Gale highlighted. “And have an awesome relay team.”
Samuel and Gale joined forces to win gold for the host Lions in the U20 women’s 4×400 m relay at the July 3-9 nationals, while Samuel also earned medals against older U20 athletes in the 4×100 m relay (silver) and 400 m and 400 m hurdles (both bronze) despite still having a year of high school left at Ashbury College.
There were no individual medals for Gale or the Lions’ third Commonwealth Youth Games participant, Mei Mei Weston, though that pair were both very pleased to simply make the team due to another commonality they share: hip injuries.
Gale had hip surgery in January to repair a torn labrum (the result of another hip procedure 3 years prior to fix a bone that stuck out too far).
Weston didn’t go under the knife, but her lingering hip problem held her back for 5 months. The Glebe Collegiate Institute student was starting to get back to form when she got a concussion while playing soccer, then caught laryngitis to top it all off.
“This year, I’ve been getting all the hits,” Weston detailed. “But everything I’ve gone through has given me a whole other view on training and running and the life of a high-performance athlete.
“I’ve never been injured in my life, I’ve never had a big hit like a concussion or anything. I know I’m so much stronger mentally and I’m going to come back really strong next year with this experience behind me.”
While Weston didn’t hit the times she sought this year, the distance runner was nonetheless thrilled to wear the Canadian singlet.
“It’s been my dream,” smiles Weston, who was most looking forward to racing against East Africans and “just so many countries that I’ve watched in the Olympics and I’ve always been in wow of.”
Hopefully this is one step towards my goal of the Olympics,” she adds.
The three Lions were eager to room together again like they did at the Athletics Ontario Championships and play the president’s card game (now that Weston has endured Samuel and Gale’s introductory learning curve), and enjoy the Bahamian sun. Having their trio triples the fun, they note.
“It’s great that we get to represent Canada and our club so well,” Samuel underlines.
Samuel wasn’t the only Lion to follow up her national podium performances with an international medal.
Alongside Canadian U20 women’s 100 m champion Shyvonne Roxborough of Ottawa, Gale and Samuel’s Lions relay teammate Keira Christie-Galloway helped Canada to a bronze medal in the women’s 4×100 m relay at the Pan American Junior Track-and-Field Championships on July 22 in Peru.
Ryan Thomsen, an Alberta-based athlete who represents the Lions, completed the first four events of the men’s decathlon at the junior Pan Ams before withdrawing.
Roan Allen would have competed in Peru had his big throw come a bit earlier, but the Lions’ athlete’s javelin toss of 62.68 m at nationals after the Pan Am qualifying deadline nonetheless earned him a Canadian crown in the U20 men’s event.