CHARLOTTE – Providence Day girls track and field coach Carol Lawrence chuckles when she recalls the team’s first practice of the season.
It’s always interesting to see how the veterans have progressed from the year before and which freshmen could step in and make an impact.
One caught Lawrence’s eye in particular, but after that very first practice, Falon Spearman got sick and threw up from exhaustion.
“I remember saying, ‘Oh, there are going to be a lot of firsts for you this year on varsity track,’” Lawrence said.
And boy was she was right.
Spearman has quickly vaulted to the top of the hurdling world, owning North Carolina’s second-best time in the 100-meter hurdles (14.22 seconds) and the best time in the state in the 300 hurdles (43.77 seconds).
Lawrence said Spearman’s best event will one day be the 400 hurdles where she can use her sprinter’s speed, agility and gifted athleticism to her best advantage.
Even though she has already set the standard high, this is very much just the beginning for a hurdler that has untapped potential and a work ethic that Lawrence said is refreshing considering her talent level.
“She works very hard at it and she wants to be good,” Lawrence said.
At first, Spearman said she thought of herself as more of a sprinter, but then her father convinced her the gymnastics training she had endured for nearly a decade could mix well with hurdles.
Spearman had trained in gymnastics for nine years, but at 11 when she entered Piedmont Middle School she made the switch to track.
Spearman has very quickly picked up the nuances of hurdling like using her hips or keeping in line. Sometimes, though, she’ll record a faster time, but feel her mechanics getting out of whack but that’s all of the growing pains she’s going to experience under Lawrence.
But Spearman was blessed with natural talent.
At the Charlotte Heat Track Club, which houses many of the region’s elite runners during AAU and offseason tournaments, Spearman still owns the 100 and 200 hurdle records for both U-13 and U-14 and is also the record holder for the U-13 high jump.
But, even with all of the early success that also includes a pair of AAU Club Championships in the 100 and 200 hurdles at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Spearman thinks she’s just starting to come into her own.
“I had been doing hurdling for two years and I think last year is when my muscles were ready, I was stronger and that’s when those times really started showing up,” she said. “Last year was the year I definitely took off.”
Taking off is a trend that’s continued into this season.
Spearman has starred in hurdles for sure, but she’s also helped acclimate herself to her teammates on a pair of relays that may have what it takes to win state titles in their own right.
Teaming with Eliza Cardwell, Olivia Hee and Camryn Taylor in the 4×100, the Chargers quartet has placed second at the Weddington Invitational and third at the Queen City Relays, both larger regional races that pair all divisions of public and private school runners.
In the 4×200, Spearman has partnered again with Hee, Taylor and Cardwell to place second at the Queen City Relays.
“I am a hurdler, that’s what I like to do, but in order to be a better hurdler I need to get my sprinting times down and get faster because that will help me overall,” Spearman said. “I don’t want to be just great in hurdles, I want to be balanced. I like running the relays. Track can be intimidating sometimes so it’s nice to have people with you in the same boat so you’re not the only one that’s nervous.”
If Spearman is nervous in her rookie season, it isn’t showing on the track.
Coach Lawrence traveled with Spearman to the 125th running of the prestigious Penn Relays, a meet that attracts the best of the best high school runners from the around the United States.
Running the 400 hurdles for just the second time in competition, Spearman set a new personal best with a time of 1 minute, 3.29 seconds, which placed her 11th in the event.
It’s also the 16th-fastest time in the 400 hurdles this season in the nation – and the fastest time from a freshman in the country.
Even with more accolades piling up at nearly every event, it’s still way too premature to compare Spearman to another former Charger great in all-American Cierra Cockrell but she’s certainly on the right trajectory to one day join her in the company of the absolute elites of the sport.
And, although she’s just a freshman, people are starting to take notice of what she’s accomplishing
“I try not to use it as an excuse. Even though I am a freshman I try to run with the older girls and use them as motivation. Really, I try not to limit myself just because of my age,” Spearman said. “I’ve had some success and my hard work has paid off so I know if I continue to work hard and work even harder than I am now I will continue to succeed. That’s just motivation for me to keep working.”