By Gavin Menu; photo by Ricci Paradiso
Allura Leggard sprints short distances, but her journey to the top has been long and arduous. The 16-year-old junior from Pierson High School, who started running when she was 7, has officially staked claim to being one of the best high school sprinters in East End history.
Racing for East Hampton High School, which shares a program with Pierson, in the Section XI Championships at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood on February 10, Leggard tied the East Hampton indoor track record for the 55-meter dash with a time of 7.40 seconds in a preliminary round.
She ran a 7.41 in the finals to finish in third place, earn All-County status and qualify for the state championship meet at Cornell University on March 5. She was also part of her team’s 4×200 sprint relay team, which broke its own school record with a time of 1:51.22 to finish sixth in the finals.
Leggard is the only Lady Bonacker athlete to qualify for the state meet. She joins distance runner Erik Engstrom, who was third in the boys 3,200 meters.
“When you come into a track meet it’s the most intimidating thing,” Leggard said. “Everyone knows you, everyone knows your time. But I felt confident in myself. I got into my blocks, and I knew that I had trained and that I had the speed and the confidence.”
Leggard likes to say that finding success in sprinting requires a delicate balance between mental endurance and physical fortitude. Clearly, one needs to be naturally fast to reach a state meet, but speed alone, Leggard said during an interview this week, will not get a sprinter very far.
“In the beginning of the season I had a time of 7.7, and I felt I started off really well,” she said of her time in the 55, which at the point placed her among the top 25 sprinters in Suffolk County. “I put in a lot of practice. I wouldn’t go to parties with my friends. I would literally go up island to train or I would train out here.
“You have to give more than 100 percent,” she added. “If you give 101 percent, that extra 1 percent can mean going to states, or not.”
In the 55-meter race last week, Leggard finished third behind Jackie Ginty, a junior from East Islip who won the race in 7.22 seconds, and Alexandra Greaves, a senior from Walt Whitman who finished second is 7.24 seconds. The three train together at Academy Speed Training in Bohemia with coach Mike Strockbine, who wrote on Facebook this week that Leggard was “full of fire” when he met her as an eighth grader in 2013.
Two weeks prior to the state qualifier, Strockbine noticed a glitch in the start of Leggard’s race at the Small School Suffolk Championships. So following that race, Leggard traveled west to Manorville to meet her coach on a snowy Sunday morning.
“I worked on keeping my head low in my drive phase,” Leggard said about her start, which is so critical in short distances. “When you come out, you want to make sure your head is low, and that you have a lot of power and strength when you’re bringing your feet down. All that power really helps with your speed.”
Leggard was seeded ninth in the county championship meet last Wednesday, but with her improved start, she rocketed up to third and snatched a school record in the process.
“I was shocked” she said later. “I looked up at the clock and I screamed. I wanted to cry.”
“It came as only a mild surprise to me,” Strockbine wrote in his post. “While others ranked ahead of her were possibly doing the same old thing on a cold Sunday afternoon, Allura Leggard spent two hours with her mom driving west on Sunrise Highway, looking for the answer that would get her to Cornell University on March 5th for the State Championships.”
Leggard credits much of her success to coaches like Strockbine and Yani Cuesta and Bill Herzog, the head coaches at East Hampton High School, and to her trainers at Integrated Exercise Therapy in Bridgehampton. She is no stranger to the big stage either, having won a state championship as a member of the Pierson field hockey team in 2013.
“Cleary I made it here for some reason, so there’s no reason I have to feel nervous,” she said “The faster you are, the harder it is to break down time, but you never know what can happen. It’s fate playing with you. You can be on top one day, or you can be on the bottom the next. You just have to be positive and you say to yourself ‘I can do this.’”
When asked again what her specific goal is for the state meet on March 5, Leggard didn’t hesitate.
“I’m looking to beat my previous time,” she said, which of course would mean the 55-meter record would be hers alone. “I’m also very in touch with spirits. I believe in my dreams and I saw myself getting a 7.2 something. So I’m going to keep that in the back of my head.”