NCCU hurdler Anthonia Ballard optimistic on NCAA meet eve
N.C. Central senior hurdler Anthonia Ballard will close out her college athletic career in style, doing so as a qualifier for the 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field East Preliminary Championships today through Saturday at the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
Ballard advances to the NCAA regional meet in the 100-meter hurdles with the 36th-fastest time in the championship field of 13.58 seconds, a mark she posted while earning her fourth Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference silver medal on May 3.
“This is my first time going to the NCAA regionals, and this is also my last go-around, so I am excited to see what’s going to happen,” she said.
Ballard is expecting the competition to be “ridiculously fast,” and says her goal is to simply run her best to see how she stacks up against that level of talent.
Regardless of where she places this weekend, Ballard has already experienced what she considers to be the most memorable moment of her college career – graduation.
“I never thought the day would come,” she said about receiving her bachelor’s degree in recreation administration on May 10. “There were times I was thinking about dropping out because it was too much for me.”
A native of Philadelphia, Ballard, affectionately known as ‘Mouse,’ was not even thinking about attending college early in her scholastic days at Swenson Arts and Technology High School. In fact, she was not a member of the school’s track team until her gym teacher told his students that the fastest person to run around the parking lot would receive an ‘A’ in the class. Ballard, a freshman at the time, blistered the asphalt. That led to a conversation with the track coach. A day later, Ballard was working out at track practice and soon she became a part of Swenson track history.
In just her sophomore season, Ballard won an individual state championship in the 300-meter hurdles and captured another state title as a member of the 4x100-meter relay squad. Those performances helped Swenson win the 2007 Class AA team state championship and garner recognition as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Team of the Year.
Publicity from her individual and team achievements resulted in a host of letters from college recruiters, and her high school coaches encouraged Ballard to start thinking about going to college. “They told me I should take the opportunity to use track as a way to pay for my education,” she said.
With a host of high school conference and state titles to her credit, Ballard accepted a track scholarship to attend North Carolina Central University.
College life was a struggle at first, especially since she had to sit out from track during her freshman year. “It was hard... I became lazy,” she admitted. “Once I got back on the track, I had to work harder to get back to where I was athletically and see if I still had it.”
She was also facing the challenge of balancing the demands of being a college student-athlete. Having to juggle the daily academic and athletic responsibilities was “really hard at times,” she said.
What kept her going was the concern of letting down members of her support system, mainly her family. “I knew that if I dropped out I would disappoint my family, my coaches and myself,” she explained, “so I just kept thinking about that.”
Ballard’s perseverance paid off. Not only did she earn that coveted bachelor’s degree, but on April 28 during the annual athletics awards program she was recognized as NCCU’s female student-athlete of the year.
“I was really happy and excited,” she said about receiving the athletics department’s top athletic award. “When they announced my name, I was ear-to-ear smiling and my teammates cheered for me. Later, I heard from lots of people saying congratulations and that they were proud of me.”
In spite of the bumps and near falls along the way, Ballard says she would not change the path of her collegiate race. “I am glad everything happened the way it did,” she said. “To have people say how proud they are of you feels good.”
When Ballard settles into the starting blocks on Friday at about 5:30 p.m., she will try to post one of the top 24 times in order to move on to Saturday’s quarterfinals. Only the top 12 runners in that race will have a chance to run in the national semifinals in Eugene, Ore.
Whatever happens, Ballard says she will continue to train in the hopes of extending her successful journey on the track as a professional athlete. She will do so as a proud NCCU graduate.