Two paths converge on a red track.
Olijawan Smith looks down the 110 meters in front of him and past the 10 hurdles, glimpsing the future he is running for.
The Medical Lake Alternative High School senior sees a first-place finish at the state meet this spring, a shot at college competition, and further down the lane he sees a career as a counselor and track coach.
Then he looks to his left and to his right, wishing the runners on either side good luck. They all want each other at their best to make it a challenge, to make themselves better.
Smith settles his 6-foot-2-inch frame into the starting block and lowers his head as he gets into the zone.
“I try to feel as calm as possible and not even feel like I’m at a track meet,” Smith said. “I’m just at practice and I’m going to run this as fast as I can.”
The gun sounds and he’s gone. He has seven steps before the first hurdle.
“The first jump is what decides your race,” he said.
For Smith, this isn’t really the first hurdle; it’s the classroom.
“If I don’t get certain classes finished by a certain deadline, I can’t compete,” he said. “If I don’t come to school or put in enough hours a week, they won’t let me practice.”
Like he’s at the starting block, Smith puts his head down and gets to work.
But once he’s over the first hurdle, it all comes naturally.
“After that, I don’t even remember the hurdles in between,” Smith said. “I just remember sprinting at the end, I kind of get tunnel vision. I forget my legs are moving and swinging everywhere.”
Doing so, Smith won District 7 and placed seventh at the 1A state meet in the 110-meter hurdles last year.
This year, he improved to fourth at state.
He’s also on track to graduate and hopes to attend Eastern Washington University. For now, the plan is to start at Community Colleges of Spokane.
“He’s got a path that he has been focused on and his goal hasn’t deviated from that pathway,” said David McNeill, the math and science teacher for the alternative school.
McNeill is also Smith’s track coach, so he sees how his work ethic manifests itself in class and on the track.
Smith said he doesn’t want to be someone to make it to college and fail out of classes. He said he hasn’t always been the best student and didn’t fully mature until last year, but he feels he has the attitude to be successful.
On the track, he said many lack the work ethic to improve if they’re not good already. But for him, that’s not a problem.
In eighth grade, Smith was determined to stay far away from the hurdles and chose to stick to the sand pit.
After some persuasion by a coach, he was competing in the 300-meter hurdles his sophomore year and fell. He lay there for about 20 seconds before he finished the race, he said.
Discouraged but not defeated, he returned to practice the next day ready to improve and get advice from coaches.
He realized he can’t be afraid of the hurdle; he has to dominate it.
Smith would be the first in his family to compete in athletics at the college level.
His brother two years his senior attended the alternative school and was a track athlete as well.
He said he used to emulate his brother; now he’s beating his times.
The further he goes, Smith said, he knows his family is going to be there rooting for him.
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