By Martin Cleary
Elizabeth Vroom was destined to be a steeplechase runner.
The recently-graduated Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School student-athlete never thought about becoming a steeplechase runner in the past, but in reviewing all the evidence and piecing it together in the spring, it made total sense.
And when the past provincial-champion soccer player started running the 2,000-metre steeplechase races, she not only won all four major high school championships, but also finished each race in a record-breaking time.
Vroom’s head-spinning performances in a new event in her return to the sport, after a two-year, COVID-19 pandemic delay, was the main reason she was named the Lancers’ female senior Athlete of the Year.
An academic scholar with a 95 per cent average in Grade 12, which helped her earn an entrance scholarship to Queen’s University for 2022-23, Vroom had a well-rounded athletic season representing Sir Wil.
She was the setter on the girls’ senior volleyball team, excelled on the cross-country running squad and played soccer on the days she wasn’t training for her steeplechase, 1,500-metre and 3,000-metre track races.
To understand the path Vroom travelled to become a nationally-ranked steeplechase runner in only four months, the clock must be rolled back almost five years. (With a 6:52.17 clocking, Vroom has recorded Canada’s second-fastest 2,000-metre steeplechase time this season in the girls’ U18 division, and posted the country’s third-fastest U20 women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase time of the season two weeks ago in B.C.)
In Grade 8, she was introduced to long-distance running by participating in elementary school cross-country races and posting top-10 results.
Vroom carried that athletic skill into Grade 9 and ran for the Lancers in cross-country, placing sixth in the girls’ midget 4,000-metre race at the East Conference championships and 19th in the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association city championships. That spring, she raced the girls’ novice 80-metre and 300-metre hurdles as well as the 400 metres for the Lancers’ track and field team.
But she had to push the pause button on her distance running and hurdling for the Grade 10 and 11 seasons because the pandemic shut down high school sports.
When track and field returned this spring just in time for Vroom’s final school year, she stepped onto the track with an open mind, but with the ability to run long distances fast and clear hurdles. Enter the steeplechase.
“I thought it would be something I could do well in. I had learned hurdles in Grade 9 and it (a larger, heavier steeplechase hurdle) was kind of similar,” Vroom said in a recent interview. “My coach with the Ottawa Lions (Kirk Dillabaugh) did steeplechase. For 15 minutes before our group practice, he would have us try the water jump. Why not?”
Before the official start of the high school track and field season, she entered the 10th annual National Capital High School Classic to get a true taste for the steeplechase experience. There were only three runners, but she won in a quality time of 7:20.69.
Her four major high school meets were held in less than a month, but she won all four in record times: East Conference, 7:22.12; NCSSAA city, 7:13.57; East Regional, 7:04.20; and the OFSAA provincials, 6:52.19.
“It’s a lot of fun,” added the former Ottawa TFC and Ottawa South United soccer player. “I enjoy it. The hardest part is getting the technique for the water jump. It’s easy to mess it up.
“I did a lot of running in the (pandemic) lockdown. I knew when I came back into track I wanted a longer distance race.”
During the lockdown, she helped to fill her time schedule by running six days a week and varied her distances between three and 10 kilometres.
“I wasn’t too sure what to expect,” Vroom said about her entry into steeplechasing. “I ran an invitational meet before the season and that gave me an indication that I could have some success.
“The records are a bit of a surprise. It encouraged me to keep going and get to a higher level. I got faster and improved my technique. As the meets became more competitive, I had faster people to race.”
In only her second steeplechase race over 3,000 metres, Vroom won the women’s U20 title during the Canadian championships in Langley, B.C., in 10:40.33. If she hopes to be considered for Canada’s team to the world U20 championships, she’ll have to run 10:19.30 or faster.
While track and field was her spotlight sport, Vroom also was a dedicated cross-country runner, placing second in the girls’ senior race at the 2021 NCSSAA championships in the fall, the volleyball team’s setter and a member of the soccer team.
“High school sports was really an easy way to get involved in the school community. You meet people that you don’t normally talk to,” said Vroom, who also was the Lancers’ junior Athlete of the Year in Grade 9 and 10. “It’s also fun being able to play sports that you don’t play outside of school.”
Vroom, who was a student council co-president, finished her high school career by receiving the Principal’s Award during the graduation ceremony for her academic, athletic and volunteer achievements.
2022 HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
This week’s High Achievers High School Best Series will spotlight the athletes of the year from a number of local schools:
SIR WILFRID LAURIER SS
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Gavin Hickey
SPORTS: Cross-country running, soccer, basketball, track and field.
THE WHY: A gifted multisport athlete, Hickey won the Coaches’ Award in cross-country running and basketball. When he wasn’t involved in cross-country, Hickey was a starter and key contributor for the boys’ senior soccer squad. He was captain of the basketball team as a Grade 11 student, and also served as a mentor and assistant coach with the boys’ junior basketball team. In the spring, he ran the 1,500 metres and threw the javelin for the track and field team.
COLONEL BY SS
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Sebastien Lacasse
SPORTS: Volleyball, cross-country running, nordic skiing, curling, track and field, baseball.
THE WHY: Lacasse is an athlete for all seasons. In the fall, the Grade 11 student was a starter on the boys’ volleyball team and finished 14th in the senior race at the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association cross-country running championships. Playing third on the boys’ varsity curling team, he helped the Cougars win the non-OFSAA division championship with an overall 7-0 record and placed sixth in the senior race at the NCSSAA nordic ski championships. Lacasse ran the 1,500 metres, 3,000 metres and 2,000-metre steeplechase in track and reached the East Regionals in the latter event. When he wasn’t pursuing track, he played on the baseball team.
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Clare Sun
SPORTS: Field hockey, touch football, nordic skiing.
THE WHY: A standout midfield player, Sun was the heart of the Cougars’ field hockey team, which won the NCSSAA Tier 1 championship. On the nordic ski team, she contributed to Colonel By winning the senior combined title. Sun also was a receiver and kicker on the touch football team.
ST. FRANCIS XAVIER CHS
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Kyle Turner
SPORTS: Lacrosse, hockey, volleyball, co-ed volleyball, beach volleyball.
THE WHY: Turner was a leader, motivator and MVP on the lacrosse team, which placed second in the OFSAA Division league. On the hockey team, he was one of the top goal scorers and helped Xavier place second overall. As a volleyball player, he had a strong on-court presence because of his size and athletic ability.
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Ava St. Pierre
SPORTS: Hockey, touch football, volleyball, co-ed volleyball.
THE WHY: A smooth-skating offensive player, St. Pierre played the most minutes of any player on the hockey team and helped develop the younger skaters. She also was one of two quarterbacks on the touch football team and played a dominant role. As a volleyball player, she was a leader and an integral part of the team because of her work ethic and determination.
Read More in our 2022 High School Best Series, presented by Louis-Riel Sports-Études, as we tip our caps to top local student-athletes at:
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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