Sully's Q&A with Olympic hurdler Sydney McLaughlin of Union Catholic High SchoolSydney McLaughlin recently graduated from Union Catholic High School, and as a 17-year old she already has an impressive resume. The hurdler was the 2015-2016 Gatorade National Girls Athlete of the Year, then earned a berth to the 2016 Summer Olympics. Glory Days Magazine Staff Writer Dave O’Sullivan caught up with the Dunellen resident during the sectional championships, and McLaughlin went on to break the world junior record in the 400-meter hurdles at groups, on her way to the Meet of Champions.
Sully: What was the Olympic experience like?
McLaughlin: It was different than what I’m used to. A much bigger stage and better competition. It was great to have that experience. It’s cool to go there as a youngster and get that experience and get to learn from the older people, and hopefully in the years to come I’ll be able to get back there and do better.
Sully: What was that moment like when you first made the Olympics?
McLaughlin: It was scary, but it was exciting. It’s a great accomplishment, and not many people get to do that. But at the same time, it was nerve wracking to realize you just put yourself in that position.
Sully: Did you ever think when you were 13 or 14 years old you would be good enough to be in that kind of league?
McLaughlin: Absolutely not. My coach joked in the beginning of the year, ‘maybe you can make the (Olympic) team.’ I said, ‘maybe we’ll go to trials.’ But making the team was just unreal. It’s a great experience and a great accomplishment.
Sully: What’s this senior year been like for you? You come back from the Olympics, how much different was your school life after that?
McLaughlin: It’s been great. It’s a different mindset for senior year. I just want to be able to go out and do everything I can before I leave, get the younger girls geared up and get the older girls to become leaders, and just leave a lasting impression before I go on to college (at Kentucky).
Sully: Has the day-to-day life been different? You go to events and everybody wants to take a picture with you and kids are trying to get autographs from you.
McLaughlin: It’s a little bit more high maintenance. You just have to be aware that it’s a different lifestyle. Walking down the street you have people recognizing you. You just have to be careful. It’s a great accomplishment to have people recognize you, but at the same time it can be on the dangerous side.
Sully: Have you had people from other parts of the country try to get in touch with you or send you letters, anything like that?
McLaughlin: People send letters to the school and to my house. I don’t know how they get my address. It’s great to be recognized, but you have to be cautious and keep an eye out for certain things. My parents do a great job of keeping me safe and all that stuff.
Sully: I’m sure you’re just like any other typical teenager. What kind of things do you like to do when you’re not on the track? Have your friends helped you stay grounded?
McLaughlin: Yeah, I have some really great friends. A lot of them in the track world and some who aren’t in the track world, friends around the country. They are always helping me to keep my head where it needs to be. Especially having people in the same sport, they understand what I’m going through and it’s great to have those relationships. Outside of track, it’s NetFlix, eat, go to the mall and spend money — just be a normal teenager.
Sully: What’s it like when you come down to a meet at a place like Egg Harbor Township? Is there a buzz, everybody asking, ‘hey, is that the girl who went to the Olympics?’
McLaughlin: I just try to zone it out. It’s great for after the races, but until I finish what I need to do, I have to stay in the zone.
Sully: Is it weird seeing kids your own age coming up to you and asking for your autograph?
McLaughlin: Yeah, it’s a little weird. We’re the same, you know? I went to the Olympics, but we’re all just teenagers. It’s cool to have them look up to me. Some of them are actually older than me, but it’s good to be able to have that kind of effect on people.
Sully: What has been the best part and what’s been the worst part about your senior year?
McLaughlin: I think the best part is being able to have one last chance to go out there and leave a lasting impression. I think the worst part is I’m going to have to leave my coaches and this great team, and everything they have done for me the last four years.
Sully: How much would it mean to you to be able to make a return trip to the Olympics? Is that your focus now?
McLaughlin: My focus now is just to get to college and see what I can do there, get adjusted into the college lifestyle and my new coaches and teammates.
Sully: What was graduation like?
McLaughlin: I was excited. The track world is great for me, and school has been great. The atmosphere of being a teenager, not so much, so I think I’m ready to move on to college and bigger and better things.
Sully: What do you say to little kids who look up to you now as an Olympian? They must be thrilled to be able to meet you.
McLaughlin: I just tell them to just go for your dreams. Age doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a number and it can’t hold you back.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays