The Future - Alexandria Anderson
This article appears in the May/June 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Here's hoping the folks who work in Buildings & Grounds at the University of Texas aren't reading this story. Alexandria Anderson is going to try to keep a pet in her dorm room next year.
You see, the Morgan Park senior state champion sprinter/jumper still hasn't gotten over the day her mom gave away the family's golden retriever, Terry, because the poor dog spent too much time home alone while the four Anderson kids attended their various athletic practices.
So Texas is where Anderson is determined to become a pet owner again.
"I gotta have a hamster or a fish or something in my room down there," says Anderson, only half kidding. "They won't know unless they come to my room. I wish I could have a dog down there. I'm going to have a whole bunch of dogs when I have my own house."
Come to think of it, it would be a pretty perplexing gig to be Anderson's pooch. It's not often that your master can outrun you. And while some four-legged friends might not possess Anderson's foot speed, plenty more of the two-legged variety are accustomed to seeing her back as she pulls away from them on the track.
The SchoolSports All-American set a Class AA state meet record last spring when she won four individual state titles — in the 100, 200, 400 and long jump — to bring her career total to nine individual state titles, including three in a row in both the 100 and 200.
She also proved she's one of the elite track athletes in the entire country, as her best performances from last year in the 100 (11.41), 200 (23.45), 400 (52.87) and long jump (19 feet, 11 inches) were all among the nation's top 10 for 2004. In fact, among non-seniors last year, her times in the 100 and 400 were tops in the nation, while her 200 time was second and her long jump was fourth.
And the 5-foot-8 Anderson is apparently just as persuasive as she is successful. She's managed to bum a stick of Trident gum off of Morgan Park junior sprinter/thrower Aja Evans before every race for years now. So when Anderson vows she's going to have a pet in her dorm room, it's best to take her word for it.
"She's a very mature young lady, and she hasn't lost that desire," says Morgan Park athletic director Lexie Spurlock. "She was so successful right from the beginning, and I told her as a freshman that her biggest challenge would be to maintain her discipline into her junior and senior year.
"Many athletes experience success early on and think they've learned everything they've needed to learn. I challenged her to stay coachable, and she's done that. She's head and shoulders above the rest because she's maintained her poise, focus and coachability."
As bright as her future is, Anderson is insistent upon keeping things in perspective. She looks to the future, but not much further than her next race. She is still in high school and she knows it.
"I try not to get ahead of myself because the road ahead is a long one," says Anderson, 18, who is the defending USATF Junior Olympic champion in the 200, 400 and long jump. "The real road starts four or five years down the line. Even the (2008 Beijing) Olympics are three years out. My work is not over with. It's never over with. You can always learn and get better."
Still, despite plenty of room for improvement and plenty of work left to be done, Anderson's hardware-heavy resume has heightened expectations. Yet her pulse remains exceptionally even.
"There are definitely days when I'm like, ‘When is it going to come, when am I going to freshman orientation for college?'" admits Anderson. "Yeah, this is my senior year and, yeah, you're ready to go, but the season has begun. I've got a high school season to run, and I'm doing it for my team and my family."
Anderson comes across as carefree and easygoing. And she doesn't seem to possess the killer instinct of an elite sprinter.
But don't be fooled. It lurks inside her. It is evident in the way she explodes out of the blocks, often gaining a stride on the competition before the echo of the starter's gun has reverberated.
"I put on the game face," says Anderson, who finished second in the 100 at the 2004 adidas Outdoor Championships. "I think every good athlete has one. Once you step off the track, you're back to yourself. You learn that you can't show any weakness when you're on the track. You have to focus. You're there to do something."
So, even when you're fast enough to rank among the nation's elite, you still have to worry about losing a race before it's even begun?
"It can happen," says Anderson, who also played four seasons for the Mustangs' volleyball team as an outside hitter. "I try to relax. I talk to friends. Then, when it comes time for your warm-up, it's time to focus. But you can't think too much of your race because you're gonna be nervous anyway. Basically, you try not to stress yourself out."
At the end of the day, Anderson seems to navigate those treacherous pre-race waters perfectly.
"She's a big fish in a little pond, but she's also a big fish when she gets to the big ponds," says Spurlock. "When she goes to those venues, she's ready. She's equipped and she gets in her zone and she reaps the benefits."
Assembling Anderson into a national sensation wasn't an overnight project. She's been a competitive track athlete for more than a decade — ever since her mother enrolled her in the University of Chicago Track Club after a friend saw Anderson beating boys in pickup races at Jesse Owens Park.
Anderson actually quit track as a 10- and 11-year-old to try her hand at softball and basketball, but she eventually returned and made it her year-round passion. Now, years later, she wants to take track — and let track take her — to the next level.
"Competing for my country at the international level is something I've been dreaming about since I was little," says Anderson, the second-oldest sibling among two brothers and a sister. "Just the honor of going to compete and represent your country is something I really hope I have a chance to do."