Track & Field

After overcoming an injury and the thought of leaving school, Tia Thevenin is ready to reach new heights

Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Tia Thevenin suffered a torn muscle connecting her gluteus maximus to her hamstring during her freshman year.

Tia Thevenin should have been taking in the beaches and enjoying the time with her family at their Jamaica vacation home. Instead, the summer getaway was filled with confusion, heated discussion and tears.

The bubbly Syracuse track and field hurdler was several months removed from a difficult first year at her new school. She had torn the muscle connecting her gluteus maximus to her hamstring and couldn’t walk or sit or play, so she redshirted. She just wanted to leave.

“I’m alone at Syracuse, not many people understand,” Thevenin remembered. “I’m away from my family, and I don’t like that. I’m hurt, and I don’t think I’m going to get better … (There was) a lot of self doubt.”

About two weeks ago, Thevenin ran the 60-meter hurdles in 8.32 seconds, breaking a school record set 17 years earlier by Veronica Tearney, then Dyer. Tearney is now a director of strength and conditioning and close friend of one of Thevenin’s mentors, Roxanne Woodley.

Had Thevenin left school and returned home to Canada, the record run would have never happened. Rehabbing the torn muscle physically was long and drawn out, but the mental toll presented the most difficult obstacle. Now that she’s fully healed, Thevenin’s poised to take Syracuse, and herself, to new heights.
“This year’s been really good to me, training-wise, competing,” Thevenin said. “That era is over.”

As a high school freshman, she attended an informal track practice before the season to see which group she’d fit in with best. Coaches didn’t see a great fit and assigned her to the hurdling group that Woodley volunteer coached for.

Woodley had no words the first time she saw Thevenin run because she looked like a “cat in water.” Thevenin didn’t compete her freshman year because she needed more training. By the following school year, she understood the hurdling techniques, like knowing her lead leg and when to take off.

“Selfishly, being a former hurdler, I wanted to hold onto her,” Woodley said. “I didn’t want to send her over there (to other units of the track team) because this is my little secret right here.”

To this day Thevenin doesn’t know why she started and continued as a hurdler, given her good flat speed. But she won her first race and by the end of senior year, she made the Canadian World team. Then, she and Danielle Delgado became the only two hurdlers for Syracuse.

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Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Warming up pre-meet in the spring of her freshman year, she tore her muscle. Tape-marked lines usually tell runners where to go, but hers weren’t lined up correctly. She ran out of an exchange zone during a relay practice and felt a pain in her leg.

The rehab dragged to prevent injury aggravation. The lack of clear improvements frustrated Thevenin. After fully healing physically, Thevenin still didn’t trust her leg to hold up under the stress.

“I think she ended on a real bad note that year,” Syracuse track-and-field assistant coach Dave Hegland said. “And she puts pressure on herself, she has really high expectations and it’s natural to doubt yourself in the process when you’re young like that.”

While injured, Thevenin called Woodley and expressed her concern. Was Syracuse the right choice? Would she run at a high level again? Could she even enjoy it?

Around that time, Woodley said, Thevenin wanted to go home.

“She was emotionally, mentally burnt out,” Woodley said.

Woodley stressed that leaving now wouldn’t be the right choice. Part of the issue, the former coach thought, was Thevenin clinging on to things from back home and not fully immersing herself at SU. Injuries prevented Woodley from running in college. She didn’t want Thevenin passing up an opportunity that she knew was perfect for her.

Thevenin’s parents weren’t keen on the idea of their daughter leaving Syracuse, either. They both agreed that for a number of reasons, some unrelated to her running career, Thevenin needed to stay.

Patricia Thevenin, Tia’s mother, said her daughter didn’t really know how to handle the struggles and setbacks popping up at SU.

“She was so used to doing well, so used to being one of the best,” Patricia said. “… I told her, you have to prepare yourself for disappointment.”

After talking with those closest to her, Thevenin decided to stay. She credits her parents with not imposing their decision and allowing her to figure things out for herself. She competed her sophomore year and won a few meets early on in the season.

But she still doubted herself. She had visualized in rehab the process of running. She sometimes overthought the situation and anxiety prevented her from running naturally. Her real breakthrough came over the summer, at Olympic trials.

“I remember we were on the warm up track, my coach and I, and I was doing hurdle starts and I just felt good,” Thevenin said, emphasizing the last word. “Then I said, ‘After this race is over and done with … I’m going to work this summer to make sure that I always feel like I’m ready to go.’”

Thevenin finished 12th. She felt upset and wanted to do better, but remained hopeful because all the runners who finished ahead of her had more experience than she did.

Now her short-term goal is to win the NCAA championships, though she keeps the 2020 Olympics in the back of her mind. The goals are so affixed in her head that she’s sometimes forgotten to celebrate her accomplishments along the way. While everyone, including Woodley and Tearney, congratulated Thevenin after breaking the school record, she was unsatisfied and annoyed she hadn’t run at a national standard.

When Thevenin ran in her freshman year of high school, she needed to believe in the path she was on, even though she had no idea why coaches picked hurdling. Four years later, Thevenin drew again on her ability to keep the faith.

“In my whole being I thought, ‘No, I can’t do this. I can’t come back.’ And …” Thevenin said, her voice trailing off and a smile creeping across her face. “I did.”

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