Spartans' rising star embraces 'magnificent seven'

When it comes to competing in the seven-event heptathlon, New West Spartans' Caleigh O'Flaherty is turning heads

There’s no doubt that success can be contagious – just ask the New West Spartans’ rising track star Caleigh O’Flaherty.

The teen has proven in her first serious season as a heptathlon athlete how one win can lead to another.

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The 15-year-old North Vancouver native wrapped up a tremendous first season in the seven-sport event, capturing a bevy of personal bests (PB) and finishing fifth overall at the Legion national championships in Brandon, Man. earlier this month.

Each taste of success only whetted her appetite for more. At least, that’s how it unfolded after O’Flaherty nailed a new best time in the first event – the 100-metre hurdles.

“I think when you have a good event and already have some points under your belt, that it totally helps your mind space in the next event, knowing that I don’t have to jump a PB to make up for that, I can just jump and have fun. I don’t have to throw this far,” said O’Flaherty.

Funny how fun often is matched by PBs. The St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary athlete established four of them in Brandon in the women’s under-18 division, beginning with the 100m hurdles in 15.54 seconds. That new personal mark brought a smile to her face and set the ball in motion for more of the same.

“That really set the tone for the whole competition,” she said of the hurdles. “High jump was next, and I got a season’s best in that, which I was really happy about. Shotput, which is one of my favourite heptathlon events, also went really well with a personal best, and the 200-metre was awesome – another PB, which was a crazy day for me.”

Three new career bests already marked the national championship as a great success. While the second day began with respectable results in both the javelin (10th overall) and long jump (eighth), O’Flaherty capped it by legging out a top time of 2:31.00 in the 800 metres.

She left the Legion nationals with a pair of silver medals (200m and 800m), a bronze (shotput) and a fifth-place finish (100m hurdles) and the sense the wind was in her sails.

“I knew it was going to be possible because I had been working so hard and my coaches have been working so hard for me, helping me and training me non-stop and adding another practice day for me. I knew this heptathlon was going to be better than the one at provincials, but I didn’t know it was going to be that good,” she said.

She credits the past year of training under the Spartans’ coaches, Tatjana and Besnik Mece, who were instrumental in coaching New Westminster native and NCAA pentathlon medallist Nina Schultz to realizing her potential.

A year ago, in O’Flaherty’s first trip to the Legion championships as a midget (under-15), the experience was quite different, with just three events on her schedule.

“Last year wasn’t as good as I was hoping, but I had a really fun time. We did a relay and we came fifth… I competed in the 80m hurdles and unfortunately had a little tumble. I also competed in the 200m hurdles but just wasn’t in the right headspace after my fall,” she said.

Still, at that time O’Flaherty was considered to be a two- or three-event athlete who was searching for a specialty. Flash forward to a few months ago when the Meces suggested she revisit the whole menu of events for her repertoire.

“When we were looking at it this year, we realized that every year I had specialized in a heptathlon event,” she said. “So we just thought, ‘Well I can jump, I can hurdle, I can run. We’ll work on javelin. I can throw a shotput with enough training, why wouldn’t this work? Why not at least try?’

“We just decided to jump in the deep end and do one (pentathlon). It worked out really well, and we decided let’s do it. This is what we’re going to focus on now,” O’Flaherty said.

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