AIRDRIE, Alta — A track and field athlete from Airdrie ran, threw, and soared her way to a gold medal at nationals last week.
Nineteen-year-old Sienna MacDonald, a multi-event specialist track and field athlete at the University of Calgary and a George McDougall High School alumna, earned first place in the open women's heptathlon at the National Canadian Track and Field championships, in Langley B.C.
Competing in seven disciplines from June 22 to 26, MacDonald produced a personal-best score of 5643 points, narrowly overcoming her closest challengers Madisson Lawrence of Winnipeg, Man. and Maude Léveillé of Sherbrooke, Que.
The 300-point PB and her first national gold medal at the senior level are easily a career highlight to date, according to MacDonald.
“This is one of the biggest meets I’ve ever competed at and obviously winning a championship title – especially at 19 – is amazing,” she said. “Not a lot of people can say they have one.”
The Airdrie native had consistently solid performances in each of the seven disciplines, finishing third in the hurdles with a time of 13.91 seconds; second in the high jump with a height of 1.69 metres; second in the shot put with a distance of 12.27 metres; fifth in the 200-metre dash with a time of 25.14 seconds; second in the long jump with a distance of 5.74 metres; first in the javelin with a throw of 42.23 metres; and seventh in the 800-metre run thanks to a time of 2:23.58.
While this marked MacDonald's first time competing at a national meet in the senior age category, she said she knew coming into the event that she had a good chance of making the podium, given her previous placements and PBs.
“Ranking-wise, I went into it third. It was obviously nerve-wracking, but I knew going in that there was a good shot of me placing,” she said. “I knew there would be a lot of shuffling back and forth between me, Madisson, and Nicole, as we were all sitting in the top three. On the first day, we were all switching positions, where we were ranked."
According to MacDonald, what makes multi-discipline events like the heptathlon challenging is the mental side of it, as well as the physical toll.
“When you do bad in one event, a lot of people have troubles moving onto the next event,” she explained. “But if you bring that attitude to the next event, it’s really hard to PB.
“You want to go as hard as you can in every event. You just know by the end of it, when you’re running that 800, that you’re giving it all you’ve got. You’ve got nothing left in the tank, but everyone at that point is feeling the same, so it’s an even playing field. It’s just who has the grit to keep running.”
MacDonald said the two events she was most proud of her performances in Langley were the high jump, which was the second event of the heptathlon, and the 800-metre, which capped off the meet. She said her top height of 1.69 metres in the high jump was a five-centimetre PB.
As for the 800-metre, she managed to shave approximately seven seconds off her previous PB. Running against tough competition helped, according to MacDonald. As did knowing that if she fared well, she would have a good shot at winning gold.
“I knew going into that one that Madisson was really close to me and that she runs a really great 800, so I just had to keep as close to her as possible,” she said.
“We took the first lap and I was coming to the line at the first 400, looking at the split. We were crossing the line close to 1:05. I had never run the first 400 that fast in the 800.”
She took up the sport competitively in Grade 10, after previously competing in gymnastics, basketball, and soccer.
Now a U of C student-athlete for the Dinos' track and field team, she said she wants to thank her former coaches when she was just learning the ropes of her sport, including long-time George McDougall track coach Ryan Haggarty and Calgary Warriors sprints coach Jan Lipps.
“I had to start somewhere and they gave me that technical ability,” she said.
With nationals in the rear-view mirror, MacDonald's next focus will be the Canada Summer Games, taking place in Niagara, Ont. this August. Beyond that, MacDonald said her longer-term goal is to win a national gold medal at the U SPORTS championship.