It was one of the biggest races of her life, but when Courtney Hufsmith lined up to race in the finals of the 1,500 meters at the World University Championships in Italy this summer, she felt calm.
“For me, there was no pressure,” Hufsmith recalls. “I was calm because the experience had been so great that I knew, no matter what happened, I would leave feeling like I had won something.”
Hufsmith, who is going into her fourth year of marketing at the University of Saskatchewan this fall, learned in late May that she would be part of the Team Canada contingent heading to the World University Championships (FISU). It was her first time on a national team and marked the fulfillment of a years-long dream to represent her country at an international event.
“It was very exciting, but I tried not to get too far ahead of myself,” Hufsmith said. “I knew there were a lot of steps I had ahead in order to actually make it to Italy so that I was as prepared as I could be.”
The 20-year-old athlete has been plagued with minor injuries in the last year, including an irritated IT band and plantar fasciitis, so staying healthy and injury-free were her top priorities in the lead-up to FISU.
After a strong block of training, Hufsmith toed the start line of the FISU 1,500 meter semi-final on July 11. Her goal was to do whatever it took to make the final. To do so, she had to finish in the top-four of her heat or clock a fast enough time relative to the other racers.
As she came into the final lap of the semis, Hufsmith realized she’d comfortably place well enough to automatically move onto the final, so she eased off the pace in the last hundred meters, finishing in 4:21.38.
The decision allowed her to preserve as much energy as she could for the final, which came two days later.
Then, Hufsmith’s goal was to end up on the podium — but she didn’t let those aspirations overwhelm her at the start line.
“Going into the race, I wasn’t thinking about what had happened in the past or what the outcome would be,” Hufsmith said. “All that mattered was running as smart and fast as I could.”
The final started slowly before picking up steam at the mid-way mark. From the start, Hufsmith was stuck at the back and contemplated making a move twice, but instead decided to conserve energy and stay where she was — a decision that proved fortuitous.
She didn’t surge ahead until other runners dropped off the pace and created an opening. Hufsmith moved into third place in the final lap and went on to cross the finish line in a personal-best time of 4:11.81 to earn the bronze medal.
“I always run my races to win, but coming home with the bronze on the day was still a win in my eyes,” Hufsmith says.
“I was very happy to have executed my plan and ended up with a small personal best in a race that was slow from the beginning.”
Hufsmith has continued to have success this season, including a fourth-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the Canadian Track and Field Championships last month (4:13.65) and setting new personal bests in the 800 metres (2:04) and 1,500 meters (4:10.25) at a meet in Quebec City this month.
Now, Hufsmith is looking forward to sharing more about her experiences. She will be giving a free talk at Brainsport on Thu. Aug. 29 at 7 p.m.