Two outstanding runners from the area will be part of one of the first groups of Americans to benefit from the new, “normalized” relationship between the United States and Cuba. Springside Chestnut Hill Academy sprinter and hurdler Brooklynn Broadwater (right) and Germantown Friends School middle-distance ace Sarah Walker (left) will be among the 28 elite track and field athletes who will make up the U.S. delegation at the 2015 Caribbean Scholastic Invitational (CSI).

Two outstanding runners from the area will be part of one of the first groups of Americans to benefit from the new, “normalized” relationship between the United States and Cuba. Springside Chestnut Hill Academy sprinter and hurdler Brooklynn Broadwater (right) and Germantown Friends School middle-distance ace Sarah Walker (left) will be among the 28 elite track and field athletes who will make up the U.S. delegation at the 2015 Caribbean Scholastic Invitational (CSI).

by Tom Utescher

The meet will be staged on June 12 and 13 in Havana, where Broadwater and Walker will be joined by 20 fellow members of the class of 2016. Four graduating seniors and two standouts from the high school class of 2017 round out the roster put together by the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation (NSAF). A total of 15 different states are represented, but along with the two locals there’s only one other Pennsylvanian on the American side, javelin specialist Grayson Hill from Erie Cathedral Prep.

The NSAF first organized the Caribbean Invite in 2006, and most of the annual gatherings have been held in Puerto Rico. The rising track and field stars will be appearing in Cuba for the first time.

“It’s a great experience for both of these young ladies,” said SCH head coach Bob Shoudt, who has been mentoring scholastic standouts for over 50 years. “I’m glad that we’re sending a very strong team down there to get this international experience, because these young people are the future of our track and field in the United States.”

Walker, who will perform in the 800-meter run, and Broadwater, who will race in the 400-meter hurdles, will fly together from Philadelphia to Miami next Tuesday, June 9. The U.S. team will assemble there, and then wing on down to Havana on Wednesday. They’ll get to practice that afternoon and again on Thursday before the start of competition on Friday afternoon.

GFS head coach Rob Hewitt will accompany the two area athletes from Philadelphia down to Havana.

“Obviously, it’s a fantastic opportunity for them,” he remarked. “I’m excited, too; I’ve never been to Cuba.”

For a few days early last month, it was not certain that Broadwater would be able to make the trip. At the Inter-Ac League championships on May 9, Broadwater won the 100-meter hurdles, then turned right around to run in the finals of the 100-meter dash. Early in the race, a hamstring injury dropped her to the track.

She was due to leave for Cuba in exactly one month, and fortunately, the problem was diagnosed as a mild-to-moderate strain, a relatively minor injury. Her father Maurice, a former high school head coach and currently an assistant at SCH, reported that her rehab has gone well.

“Her therapist, who has been very good, feels she’s back to about 90-percent,” he said last week. “She’s been doing drills, working on the treadmill, and she’s not having any pain.”

A dominant sprinter in the Inter-Ac since she was a freshman, Broadwater won gold medals in both the 200 and 400 meters at the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association Indoor State Championships back at the beginning of March. She also anchored SCH’s victorious 4 x 400 meter relay team.

Appearing in a stronger field and on a grander stage the following month, Broadwater won the 400 meter hurdles at the 2015 Penn Relays.

While the Springsider is now working back to full capacity, Germantown’s Walker has been in superb form this spring.

“She’s rock-and-roll fit right now,” Hewitt said. “She can flat-out get up and rip.”

At the end of her freshman season with the Tigers, Walker ran the fastest 800 meter time of any ninth grader in the country. She’s remained among the elite runners in the event, turning in a U.S. number one time (for any class) back in April.

She performs at a high level at both shorter and longer distances, and she’s anchored some highly successful relay teams for GFS. Hewitt pointed out that this spring she ran a 400-meter relay leg of 55.2 seconds, and in an open 1600 race in a dual meet, she finished in four minutes, 52 seconds. The winning time in that event at the Inter-Ac championships was 5:04.

While Walker found her niche early on, hurdling was originally a secondary pursuit for the Blue Devils’ Broadwater. Many good scholastic sprinters are called upon to also run the hurdles in high school meets, and at that level, the SCH standout had great success. Unfortunately, the 300-meter version popular in Pennsylvania is not run regularly elsewhere. In most states, and at the college level, it’s either the 100 or the 400.

“The 400 is actually a good deal more demanding than the 300,” SCH’s Shoudt stated, “but since Brooklyn is not only a very good [open] 400 runner but also a pretty good 800 runner, we felt she had the endurance to perform well in the 400 hurdles. Overall, we’re trying to look out for what will be good for her in the future, and we felt that the 400 hurdles is a great event for her going forward.”

Back in 9th grade, her form while clearing the barriers left much to be desired, although her speed between the hurdles made her successful.

Shoudt pointed out, “Her technique has improved greatly this year; she’s kept plugging away at it. She’s a young lady who has a good disposition, who has both feet on the ground, and who works hard to reach her goals.”

GFS’ Walker actually has a big race on the docket before leaving for Havana. This Tuesday (June 2) she’ll compete at the John Hay Memorial Distance Festival in West Chester, where she ran her fabulous freshman time and where she recorded her overall PR of 2:06.62 in 2014.

There’ll be little time for rest even after the excursion to Cuba, since the 2015 New Balance® Outdoor Nationals will be held in Greensboro, N.C. the very next weekend.

“What we’ve been doing with a number of our kids, including Sarah, is work to create a three-to-four-week window for them to get a PR,” Hewitt explained. “All of our coaches work with her, and they bring a lot of experience to the table, and she brings her talent and a really phenomenal work ethic. She’s been very consistent within our system, and what really impresses me is if you take a snapshot of one part of the season, she’s always faster from one year to the next.”

He said that physically, “She’s one of the springiest, most elastic kids you’re going to find. For the first time we’ve had her in the weight room consistently this year. She’s also grown a couple of inches, and that’s helped her overall athletic development.”

Walker, Broadwater and the other athletes on the Cuba journey will be well supported; in addition to the expected coaches and administrators, a doctor, a sports psychiatrist, and even a lawyer are going to accompany the U.S. contingent.

There’s not a lot of down time built into the itinerary, and the group will return home on Sunday, June 14, the day after the meet ends. Most of the athletes will have to be in North Carolina just a few days later for the Outdoor Nationals.

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