High School Sports

Bellingham hurdler headed to National Junior Olympic Championships

Bellingham's Benjamin Doucette, left, races toward a second place finish in the 110-meter hurdles at the Class 2A Track and Field State Championships on Friday, May 29, at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
Bellingham's Benjamin Doucette, left, races toward a second place finish in the 110-meter hurdles at the Class 2A Track and Field State Championships on Friday, May 29, at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma. The Bellingham Herald

Bellingham’s Ben Doucette admits you have to “be a bit nuts” to be successful in hurdle racing. But “a bit nuts” is also what most people think when they see Doucette’s schedule.

The soon-to-be high school senior competed in an indoor track season in the fall before the outdoor high school season began in the spring, when Doucette was successful enough in both the hurdles (second in 110 hurdles at state) and relays (fourth in 4x100 at state) to earn Red Raiders’ MVP honors all while also serving as Bellingham High School’s Associated Student Body President.

The workload didn’t stop there for Doucette, who has continued his track season into the summer, competing in the Junior Olympics preliminaries and regional championships and finding time to squeeze in a pair of student leadership camps.

“I like keeping busy, but really, track is my getaway,” Doucette said in a phone interview. “It helps me focus on running and working out. If I’m not working out and doing things, I go a little stir-crazy. ... I like to keep occupied. I like to be involved.”

It just so happens Doucette’s escape from the constant churn of his busy schedule is something he’s quite good at.

His first-place finish at the Junior Olympics preliminaries and his second-place at the regionals in the 110-meter hurdles earned him a spot at the USATF National Junior Olympic Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Jacksonville, Fla.. The event begins on Monday, July 27, and ends Sunday, August 2.

“The first round of prelims, I had a pretty good time. It was the second-best time I ever ran. That was pretty sweet,” Doucette said. “The second event at regionals was a bad race. It was a mix of things. I didn’t run as well as I hoped to but I still made it through. ... I’m excited to have another chance in Florida.”

A natural talent

Doucette didn’t start running hurdles until his freshman year, when a coach told him he’d be pretty good at it. Since then, Doucette “kind of fell in love with it,” he said.

But what made Doucette so good at it?

Certainly his height and slender frame helped, but Doucette had a unique quality that every successful hurdler must have.

“It’s sort of a mindset. It’s who’s willing to put their body on the line and really go for it,” Doucette said. “If everything is under control, you’re not going fast enough. It’s exhilarating.”

Hurdles is the only track event that has a risk of falling each time out. A scrape across the track if your foot catches the hurdle isn’t a pleasant trip either.

Luckily for Doucette, he’s only fallen once, but said he’s had races where only three of eight runners finished.

“It takes a little bit of stupidity and a little bit of insanity,” Doucette said. “You just have to not think about it.”

Instead of dwelling on all the things that could go wrong, Doucette plugs his headphones in and listens to a mix of classic rock and hip-hop while envisioning the perfect race in his head.

“Think about what can go right, and then get to the start line, pray, clear my mind and think about what I need to do,” Doucette said.

Devastation to motivation

As Doucette stumbled across the finish line in the 110-meter hurdles finals at the Class 2A State Track and Field Championships, it wasn’t clear whether he won or was just short. When the scoreboard flashed the results, Doucette was left running through the “what-ifs,” as his time of 14.75 seconds was just two-hundredths of a second off the winner.

What if he had tried to recover his hamstring injury sooner? What if he hadn’t gotten hurt at all? What if he had gotten a slightly better jump off the gun?

“It was really, really hard for me at first. I didn’t sleep much; I was devastated,” Doucette said. “I was bawling afterward on my dad’s shoulder. ... I wanted to take a break after that.”

He was back in the gym just days later to train though.

“I thought ‘This isn’t going to stop me,’” Doucette said. “I love to run hurdles. It’s my favorite thing in the whole world. I got to run at state and got second. A lot of people would be extremely blessed to have that opportunity. I started focusing on the positives instead of the negatives.”

It led to a strong summer season, which he hopes to end with an appearance in the Junior Olympics finals in Florida.

After that, he’ll take a short break before getting in shape for his last season as a Red Raider, when he’ll attempt to become a state champion and break a more than 50-year-old school record time in the hurdles.

“I have to work hard and work smart. I think if I hadn’t gotten injured, I could have done all that last year,” Doucette said. “I like to work hard and sometimes I have a little thing that’s bugging me and think it’s fine and ends up being bigger than I thought. I just need to keep working hard and listening to what my coach tells me.”

A competition against the elite athletes in the nation is just a step along the way.