Pickering Speed Academy's Tony Sharpe, Xahria Santiago honoured by Athletics Canada

Former club member Andre De Grasse recognized for Olympic performance

AJAX — The Speed Academy in Pickering has been rewarded for another excellent year, dominating the annual awards given out by Athletics Canada.

Head coach Tony Sharpe, a former Olympic medallist, has been named the development coach of the year for the second time in three years, while one of his current athletes, Xahria Santiago of Ajax, has been honoured as the youth athlete of the year.

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Speed Academy runner specializes in 400m hurdles

OSHAWA -- Mariam Abdul-Rashid says she is used to being away from home, which is a good thing considering where much of her time over the next four years is going to be spent.

The 17 year old will be taking up residence in the Lone Star State beginning in August after accepting a scholarship to run for the University of Texas track team. She expects to compete in her specialty, the 400m hurdles, as well as sprint hurdles, the 200m and 400m and anything else the Longhorns ask of her.

Once she signed her letter of intent it was a sense of relief, says the Oshawa resident, who was recruited by more than 30 schools.

"It was pretty stressful," says Abdul-Rashid, who trains and competes with the Pickering-based Speed Academy. "The universities ask a lot from you. The running part was the easiest part of the whole thing because that's what I do. It's a lot of phone calls, paperwork. It's pretty overwhelming."

Initially a sprinter, Abdul-Rashid transitioned into the hurdles, and enjoyed immediate success, including a fifth in the 400m hurdles at the world junior championships in Oregon last summer. At the Canadian youth championships in British Columbia, she reached the podium four times, three times as a gold medallist in the 200m, as well as the 100m and 300m hurdles. She also earned bronze with Ontario's 4x400m relay team.

Entering her senior year at Eastdale, interest in universities from the United States began to escalate. She made a short-list of five, then narrowed it down to three to visit.

"I knew all the schools would have a lot to offer me academic-wise and they would all be really great programs," she says of making a list of criteria she wanted in a school. "When I narrowed it down and went on my visits, I was looking for what school made me feel the most comfortable and where I thought I could see myself spending the next four years. It wasn't about who had the best program, just what felt the best."

Her list of three universities to visit were all marquee names, including Kentucky, USC and Texas. While she admits the final choice was a difficult one, it was Texas, the last school she visited, that left the most favourable impression.

"I met a lot more of the team at Texas. They were all together," says Abdul-Rashid of the weekend visit that also included attending a track practice and football game.

"Once I went on my visits and had my top three, I was confident with it."

Abdul-Rashid credits her support group with guiding her through the process, including track coaches Patrick Russell and Tony Sharpe. She also had high praise for her mom, Akilah, and dad, Shaka.

"I don't even think I would have been able to make any of my decisions or go through the whole process without them," she says of her parents.

As for upcoming competitions, a couple of major ones are on the calendar this year. In the spring she expects to compete at her final OFSAA meet, where she set a record in the 400m hurdles last year. She will also run in a couple of other events, though undecided at this time as to which ones.

Her times are good enough to meet the qualifying standard for the junior Pan Am Games in Edmonton this summer, but she would prefer to represent Canada at the senior Pan Am Games in Toronto, hoping to run in front of family and friends closer to home. A top-two at the Canadian championships would be needed for that inclusion.

Once the summer season closes out, she will head to Texas in late-August where she wants to study international relations, hoping to enter the field of international aide in the future.