Trek to the track: Bison hurdler's journey has taken her from island nation to Oregon
Fargo - A week from today, Deborah John will have one whole day to rest and gather herself before heading to the airport to leave for home. It’s a multi-connection flight to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Once there, she’ll have three days to get ready for the country’s national games with the hope of qualifying for the Commonwealth Games later this summer in Scotland. If that sounds like a long journey, well, she’s used to it.
She came to North Dakota State five years ago thanks to the head coach at the University of Minnesota, who didn’t have a scholarship for her because she hadn’t quite reached the recruiting standards for a Big Ten Conference school. Later this week, she’ll represent the Bison in the 100-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
“I never thought I would come to North Dakota but I don’t regret it at all,” John said.
She graduated with a major in business management and a minor in psychology. It was sunny with a high temperature in Fargo in the low 80s last week when she was reflecting on her NDSU career – ironic in the weather was about the same that day in Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean twin island country off the northern edge of South America.
That rarely happens.
Also rare four years ago were thoughts of her being among the top 100 hurdlers in the country.
“She probably had some doubts when she was a freshman, whether it was going to happen,” NDSU head coach Ryun Godfrey said of the NCAA appearance. “To see it become reality is special.”
Having doubts would probably be an understatement, especially considering she had never run over a hurdle until she got to college. She was a 100- and 200-meter sprinter as a recruit from Tunapuna High School in Port of Spain. She competed in the 2009 Pan American Junior Games, but finished 18th in the 200.
The Bison pegged her as a pentathlon and heptathlon athlete right away.
Her response to Bison assistant coach Stevie Keller: “Oh my gosh Stevie, I can’t do this,” she said. “But he just kept encouraging me and that’s the great thing about him: he never gives up on his athletes in trying to find that quality and talent that he sees for us to see.”
In John’s case, that would be the hurdles – one of the multi events.
“She kind of fell in love with that event,” Godfrey said. “She’s a girl who would make an impact in the Big Ten right now.”
It wasn’t overnight success. It wasn’t until her third year in school when she took third place in the Summit League 100 hurdles. She won the event as a junior, but took 15th in the West Preliminary.
It all came together this outdoor season.
“I had to get over my mental barriers,” John said. “Just doubting yourself, believing you can do it, believing that you train hard and that you will reap the benefits someday.”