xml:space="preserve">

During many large-scale high school track meets, it's a good bet one unfortunate athlete will clip a hurdle, fall and see their dreams of victory vanish.

North Carroll's Haley Cianfarini knows how that feels. After winning the Class 1A state 100-meter hurdle title, the Panthers' senior was on her way to another in the 300 hurdles until she fell.

She summoned strength to get back up and finish second, a fairly impressive feat. But that isn't what makes Cianfarini different from many other hurdlers.

From the minute she started hurdling at North Carroll until her final meet, she has done it all herself.

No lessons, no hurdling coach, no nothing.

Just the curiosity of a young girl that thought the hurdles looked cool has led her on a journey full of medals and accolades.

After her performance this spring, the high-school road ends with Cianfarini being named the Times Girls Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

In addition to the state title and silver medal, she took gold in the 100 and 300 hurdles at the 1A West region meet and was the county champion in the 100 hurdles. Her time of 14.64 in the 100 hurdles at the state meet, is the fastest recorded time in Carroll outdoor history.

With all the accolades and top times, it would seem like Cianfarini was a longtime track athlete, but she didn't really pick it up until middle school.

"In seventh grade I decided to try track and I joined a club team called Excel and I just started running. I mainly stuck to the 400 and mid-distance and then one day I just wanted to try hurdles," Cianfarini said. "The two coaches, Coach Maynard and Diane Hurd, they were running the whole Excel program. Coach Maynard was really good at hurdles and I think he won a few championships at [Division III].

"He just taught me the basics of that and really got me introduced to them. I started doing pretty well and that is how I learned. I never had a hurdling coach besides him."

If Cianfarini was going to get started with anyone, Hurd's resume reads like a good candidate to be a mentor. After a successful track career at Frederick High School, Hurd went on to achieve even more at Frostburg State University. He won five D-III titles, consisting of three 55 hurdle championships and two 110 hurdle victories.

And Hurd turned out to be the spark that ignited her passion in the hurdles with the help of his pupil's eagerness to learn.

"One thing is, Haley made it a lot easier because she is probably one of the most coachable athletes I have ever worked with. She took instruction extremely well and her dedication made it a lot easier than it is for most kids," Hurd said. "Most kids want to run the hurdles because they think it looks cool and exciting but once they actually go out there, it can be kind of dangerous.

"With Haley it was fairly easy, she had the interest in it and she was fearless. She didn't show she was intimidated by the hurdles."

Once she had the basics down, Cianfarini was essentially on her own in terms of hurdling for North Carroll. But she never lost that fearlessness.

It was on display at the state meet after she recovered from the fall and it was sure to catch the attention of many observers. But aside from natural talent and resiliency, teammates and coaches notice something else that makes Cianfarini so successful — her work ethic.

"Haley works so hard to get where she is and she's there even on the weekends. It's inspiring to have a teammate on a small team to make you work harder like she does," said junior Molly Walsch.

Sprints coach Andrew Harrell started helping the North Carroll track program when Cianfarini was a freshman. Although most athletes evolve into a leadership role as juniors or seniors, Harrell saw a different dynamic with Cianfarini.

On a small squad without anyone named as a captain, Harrell didn't have to worry about who would take control.

"She came in as a freshman and had an immediate impact on the team. She was winning races and was really a role model for even the older kids on the team because of how talented she was," Harrell said. "This season, we had a small group of varsity girls competing in the meet and they all really looked up to Haley as a leader.

"We didn't have any spoken or official captains, but I think she took on that role without anyone really telling her about it."

But having such a successful outdoor season was potentially not in the play after Cianfarini suffered an ankle injury in the early portion of the field hockey season.

Rehabbing at a quick pace, she made it back for the championship part of the indoor season when originally her doctor said she might not be able to compete again during her senior year.

However a strong determination to get back and one other factor led to Cianfarini's quick recovery.

Her older sister Nicole, 26, was a nurse and was there to keep little sister in check during the recovery/rehab process.

"Once I did get hurt, right away I wanted to get the surgery and recover right away. She was on top of it too, telling me what to do and researching what it was," Cianfarini said. "Once I did get the surgery, the whole family was there, my sister was getting up in the middle of the night with me and giving me medicine. She knew I could do it and she knew I could push myself to get back out there."

With a productive high school career now in the past, Cianfarini plans to continue running track at High Point University in North Carolina.

She will keep doing the hurdles and it's a sure bet there will be more falls along the way. But coach Harrell has no doubt she will spring back up and keep competing.

"Watching that race tells you exactly what Haley is about. Never give up attitude, the cards might be stacked against her but she is going to work as hard as she can to do the best that she can," Harrell said. "I can't believe that happened to her, but she got back up and almost won first place. It was just awesome to see her recover like that and show the drive that makes her so great."

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement