Do me a favor, count to ten. Just do it. Fine, I’ll do it with you:
Why did we just waste time and plenty of space counting to ten? Because I want you to realize the significance of that number as it pertains to athletic achievement. Ten is the number of times OPRF High School graduate Brittany Smith was named All-America during her athletic collegiate career at Illinois State University. You wouldn’t know it by meeting her; she’s not one to advertise such accomplishments, or to reveal that she was a four-time runner-up finisher at the outdoor NCAA Division I Track and Field championships.
Here’s just a tease of Brittany Smith’s athletic accomplishments: Those Ten All-America honors, four-straight second place finishes at the NCAA championships, three Missouri Valley Conference titles, one Illinois High School Association Class 3A State title and one runner-up finish at state.
Going back a few years to 2009, Smith won the discus event at the Class 3A State Meet to become OPRF’s first state champ in girls track and field since 1997. She also finished second in the shot put event. Back then, Smith didn’t know what it meant to be selected All-America, but she did know what it meant to be a mediocre athlete with the will of a champion.
“I was never the best athlete, but I broke a lot of barriers for myself,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll break a bunch more.”
Jason Dennis, a longtime coach of multiple sports at OPRF, including field events for the track team, coached Smith for four years. He said rarely does a student-athlete come along with not only the physical talents but the prowess to want to improve every day.
“Her focus and discipline is unparalleled. She was there early and stayed late,” said Dennis. “It got to a point that I had to stop telling myself what she wouldn’t be able to do, because she would do it. She’s an astute learner and hard worker, the whole package.”
Smith, now 22, recently tossed an 8.8-pound cast iron ball 58-feet, 6.75-inches to finish second in the shot put event and end her collegiate athletic career. Three days before that, she flung the hammer 224-09 to finish second place. Those were her last two All-America honors, eight of the ten being First-Team honors and the other two Second Team.
“I’ve got two of them with me, but the rest my mom has somewhere,” said Smith when asked where one keeps such a stash of prolific hardware. But she doesn’t want to talk about trophies, or, really, for that matter, her athletic accomplishments. That’s why she called me back while putting equipment away during a summer camp she was helping coach at ISU. “I’ve got just a little time to chat,” said the Math Education major who plans on graduating from ISU next year.
She wouldn’t let OPRF girls basketball coach JP Coughlin rave about her athletic achievements when he began to introduce her glowingly at a summer basketball camp in Oak Park last season. “I think I started mentioning the All-America honors and she cut me off right away,” he recalled. “She’s that type of person. She just wants to compete and help others. The recognition is a side-note for her.”
Smith, whose throwing career began when she rolled an ankle in middle school and heeded the advice of Julian coach Dave Benson to leave the track for the field events, would like to go overseas to compete in some professional meets and hopefully make a run at the 2016 Olympics.
“I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I would or could,” she said. “I’m happy with my past accomplishments, but … I hope to accomplish more.”
Yes, a national championship win has remained elusive, but maybe four runner-ups and a humbled spirit equal one overall champion.
Either that or we can always count to ten again.