Record-breaking Cathedral Catholic High School hurdler receives surprise call from Olympic champion Gail Devers
By Rob LeDonne
It was an afternoon like any other recently when Cathedral Catholic High School junior Hannah Labrie-Smith was sitting in her second period class and the school’s counselor pulled her out of the room. “I thought she wanted to talk about college or something,” Labrie-Smith said. Instead, she was whisked to the Communications Director’s office where there, on the phone, was retired three-time Olympic track and field champion Gail Devers.
“My heart dropped and my face went totally red,” Labrie-Smith said. “I was speechless because I was not expecting to talk to her at all. She was giving me words of encouragement and it was really amazing. I still haven’t exactly wrapped my mind around it... that it actually happened.”
Devers’ call came after Labrie-Smith, a star member of Cathedral Catholic High School’s track and field team, broke Devers’ 31-year-old record in the 300 meter hurdles on Saturday, April 12, when she finished second with a time of 42.24 seconds at the Arcadia Invitational — .02 under Devers’ mark — a record that has stood since Devers attended Sweetwater High School in National City. “She’s been such an inspiration for me in the past,” said Labrie-Smith. “When I broke it, it was so exciting. I was just super honored.”
Making the record-breaking time even more impressive is that Labrie-Smith didn’t dive into the world of track and field until her freshman year, and only then was it just by happenstance. “My older sister was on the team and did hurdles, so after school I’d have to wait for her to finish up,” explained Labrie-Smith of her humble beginnings. “After awhile it started to interest me.”
From there, Labrie-Smith fell in love with the sport and practiced both on and off the field before meets. In order to perfect her form, she studied videos of track stars on YouTube — including footage of Gail Devers, who won two gold medals at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and one gold medal in Barcelona in 1992.
“I’d watch these videos as guidance for my own hurdling,” she said. “At a certain point, I realized my running was close to her high school time.”
By the time Labrie-Smith was a sophomore she was chasing Devers’ record, and last year she came within a fraction of a second of beating it. Undeterred from there, Labrie-Smith continued to follow her training routine in the hopes that one day she would break the record. “Depending on how many meets we have, we’ll have one or two hard hard workout days, and one or two technical days,” says Labrie-Smith of her routine. “We also have coaches specific to each individual event. Our hurdle coach, Bob Vilvan, helps with every aspect of the race.”
Finally, Labrie-Smith’s record-breaking day came during the Arcadia Invitational, a renowned track and field meet that takes place annually every April at Arcadia High School, east of Los Angeles, where many records are set and broken. “It’s one of our biggest competitions,” notes Labrie-Smith, who got off to a rocky start by falling over at one point during the Invitational. “I knew I’d be competing against so many good runners, so that really pushed me.”
When it was time for the 300 meter hurdles event, Labrie-Smith was ready: “I was just focusing on staying consistent with my stride pattern, and the rest fell into place.” After completing the event, Labrie-Smith didn’t realize she actually beat the record until people started congratulating her. “I couldn’t fathom it... I still don’t,” she said. (Nevada’s Tiana Bonds won the event at 41.35.)
Throughout it all, Labrie-Smith credits her parents and Coach (Dan Geiger) for their support. “Everyone is super encouraging,” she says. “My parents keep me grounded and want to see me competing against myself, getting better in my own running style, and keep beating my own times. The biggest part is that I need to keep pushing myself to be the best version of me I can be.”
As for what’s next, Labrie-Smith says in addition to getting her time down even lower, she plans on attending college and joining a collegiate track team (though she’s not sure where yet.) Other than that, a life goal is to continue to follow in Devers’ footsteps and join the U.S. Olympic team one day. “If that ever came my way, I’d be honored,” she says. “I’m pretty excited with what I’ve done so far; I keep on surprising myself with my own success.”
For more details on Devers’ comments in her conversation with Labrie-Smith, visit https://www.cathedralcatholic.org/news/item/show/1258; For Arcadia Invitational results, visit www.arcadiainvitational.org.