BRANFORD >> Four years ago, Branford’s Anna Atkinson went looking for a challenge.
The self-described perfectionist found one in hurdling.
“The first day I ever did a workout I did distance, but I knew that wasn’t for me because I just wasn’t into it,” Atkinson said. “And so I thought, you know what, I want to do something different that not a lot of people are into.”
Since the day she found hurdling, Atkinson has been continuously fine-tuning every detail. Some days she gets the best of the hurdles; some days the hurdles get the best of her.
But the Hornets’ senior embraced the challenge and has enjoyed a successful high school track career. Atkinson is headed to Boston College this fall where she will begin her college track career. Starting Friday, she’s scheduled to compete at the two-day Spartan Midnight-Sunrise Invitational at Amity.
“Maybe it’s a metaphor for life and how she approaches it,” Branford coach Kevin Connell said. “I think some people see (the hurdles) as barriers and she sees them as challenges.”
Atkinson says she took to the hurdles easier than most during her freshman year. After making sure she could just clear a hurdle — which she remembers being a “rush” — she was then able to work on the technical aspects such as the proper start, steps, form and finish.
“She responded to the drills for hurdling really well as a freshman,” Connell said. “She placed in our first few meets and we knew we had something.”
Because of her meticulous nature, the hurdles have been a natural fit. It’s an event where there’s always an area to improve, which Atkinson enjoys. If she lands just slightly off, she’ll notice it. The 100-meter hurdles, which stand 33 inches off the ground, are her favorite.
“There’s a lot to focus on; not just power and speed, but also mechanics,” Atkinson said. “And I’m a really particular person, so I think that helped to get to me where I am.”
Where she’s at now is among the elite hurdlers in the state. Last spring she finished second at the Class MM championships in the 100 hurdles. This past indoor season, Atkinson placed first in the 55 hurdles at both the Southern Connecticut Conference and Class L state championships in a time of 8.6 seconds. She finished fifth at the State Open to qualify for New Englands.
But her success didn’t come all at once. In a sport where you run at top speed and propel your body over an object almost three feet off the ground, there’s bound to be some failure. Atkinson said her first major fall came sophomore year in the 300-meter hurdles. She was on the final straightaway and her trail leg clipped a hurdle.
“I face-planted and scraped my shoulder pretty bad, and my knee,” Atkinson said. “It was really awful.”
It took a few days to build up her confidence again. But quitting was never an option.
“I’m just the kind of person…I have no tolerance for losing,” Atkinson said. “I’m really competitive and I knew I couldn’t end things like that.”
Nowadays her fear of clipping a hurdle is not about the falling, it’s about clocking a slower time.
“Making it look effortless really takes a lot of effort,” Connell said.
Atkinson’s outgoing personality and quirky sense of humor have been a good balance for her competitive nature on race day. Connell said time-wise, 14.9 seconds in the 100 is something Atkinson would like to reach by the end of the spring.
She’s been challenged almost weekly by Gabby Curtis of Wilbur Cross, Career’s Milani Glass and Jaliyah White of Hillhouse. State-wide, her toughest competition is Ledyard’s Chenoa Sebastian and Sarah Boyd of McMahon.
“It’s definitely intimidating knowing there’s pressure, and it’s really tight competition,” Atkinson said with a smile. “But focusing on myself, being the best I can be…You know, losing, it sucks, but it’s all about progress and you have to remember that.”
Atkinson, who also participates in the high jump, long jump and javelin, will be competing in the heptathlon when she goes to Boston. And just like she embraced track and field from Day One, she’s looking forward to her next challenge.
“The heptathlon is a good match for Anna’s personality; one challenge after another,” Connell said. “If she does not perform well in one event, it motivates her to come back stronger in the next.”