Annie Waddell’s success has been foreshadowed since she was in middle school, Benjamin Doucette could be on the brink of winning a state title and Tanner Aliff has elevated himself to a state-caliber level with tremendous career gains.
Each track and field athlete has improved at their own rate, but this spring the trio is making a name for Bellingham’s hurdling crew.
Red Raiders hurdling coach Laurent Birade admitted the transformation process takes time. A strong hurdler isn’t constructed in a day.
Before last year, when Waddell placed seventh in state in the 100 hurdles and Doucette took third in the 110s, Bellingham went three years without having a state finalist run in the boys’ or girls’ 100s, 110s, or 300s.
“Now we are finally starting to have people and have a team that starts to understand what we do every year,” said Birade, who competed for the Canadian National team from 1992-97. “We only do this three months out of the year, so after four years we’ve been hurdling for one year.”
After having placed either first or second during the Class 2A District Meet last week, Aliff, Doucette and Waddell will be looking to replicate their success when the Class 2A State Track and Field Championships take place Thursday-Saturday, May 28-30, at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
For all three, Bellingham’s strong hurdling season boils down to hard work and having what they believe is the best coach they could ask for.
“We all work together. We call it the hurdle crew,” Waddell explained. “We warm up together, we practice together. We are always together. It’s kind of nice because I’m the only girl, so we got a kind of sibling relationship and we all kind of mess around with each other and push each other to do our best.”
Waddell, who has been running some of her fastest times the past few weeks and owns a season personal best of 15.76 seconds, ranking her seventh best among Class 2A competition.
While Waddell has benefited from having Aliff and Doucette around, the boys pairing might be benefiting the most.
“We compete like brothers,” Doucette said with a smile when asked about Aliff and their relationship. “We say we have a love-hate relationship, because we love each other, but when we start competing we hate each other a lot. There are times when we are running 200s and we are supposed to be running at like 29 seconds, and we end up running at 25 because we want to beat each other so badly.”
In fact, with a group so eager to learn and driven to succeed, Birade focuses on preaching a method of training smarter rather than training harder.
“There are two ways you can do it,” Birade explained. “You can work like a dog, and you’ll get a little bit of improvement, or you can work hard and really focus on your teaching, and you can get huge gains in performance.”
Doucette has learned to train smart, especially after suffering a hamstring injury early in the season that set him back. The junior title contender owns a season personal best in the 110s of 14.36, which ranks No. 1 among 2A competition.
Doucette’s only sport is track and field, and he’s committed himself to year-round training.
Aliff is coming off a football season to remember in which he ran for 1,757 yards and 18 touchdowns, helping Bellingham football take its first step in turning around the program. After a strong season, it didn’t take long for his attention to turn toward track.
“Three days after (football) I came out and did as much as I could with Ben,” Aliff said. “The thing that made me grow, I think this year, is that I had this competitive atmosphere, especially with the coaching staff. They are always promoting excellence.”
Aliff’s growth has been vast during his four years competing. Each season he’s PRed. He ran a 18.89 for his best time when he was a freshman and clocked a 15.42 last week during the district meet.
But all three Bellingham hurdlers admitted they wouldn’t be where they are if it weren’t for Birade’s surplus of knowledge.
“That man has given me everything for this sport,” Aliff said. “Dena Birade (sprints coach) and Laurent, the two together, the duo, they have given me everything for track. They are some of the best coaches I’ve ever had with the sheer professionalism and the amount of fun I am able to have around them.”
No matter how Bellingham’s hurdlers do this weekend, the future appears bright, especially under Laurent.
“I think this is the up-and-coming group right here,” Laurent said. “Ben has ran a 14.3, and Tanner has done 15.(4), so I’ve never had a group of kids that have came in never hurdling before and in two-three years have gotten to that kind of a level.”