Wesley Chapel hurdler Shaniqua Hill raises money for Australia meet

Her teammates call Shaniqua Hill "Short Stuff" because the Wesley Chapel High sophomore has yet to hit 5 feet.

"Sometimes when I go to track meets, people look at me and think, 'Is she the mascot?' " Shaniqua said.

But the slight 16-year-old is the fastest hurdler on the team. Last year, she was the only freshman from her school to make it to the state track competition.

She and runners who made it to the state meet were invited to the Down Under Sports Tournaments in Australia this summer. The 10-day program for American high school athletes will include competitions in track and field, football, cheerleading, basketball, volleyball and several other sports.

Other runners balked at the price — about $4,000 per person, including flights and hotel — but Shaniqua is determined to go.

"It's not something you get to do every day," she said. "I really want to go."

Exactly how she will get there is still in the works.

"With the economy the way it is, it's impossible to come up with $4,000 at the drop of a hat," said her mom, Penny Clardy, 37.

Clardy is a former soldier and a stay-at-home mom. Shaniqua doesn't have much contact with her father. She and her extended family live with her grandmother, Geneva Rogers, 53, who works at Publix and tries to get time off for Shaniqua's meets.

The family's goal is to raise enough money to send mom and grandmother along with the track star. They'll do it by holding benefit drives and carwashes, and just plain asking for donations.

There are also rumors of a talent show fundraiser. Though instead of jumping hurdles on stage, Shaniqua would tell jokes or dance.

If Australia happens, it won't be the first time the determined "Short Stuff" has put her mind to something and succeeded.

When Shaniqua first attempted the hurdles, the petite runner's form needed some work.

With a lot of practice, she was able to perfect her stance and shave 10 seconds from her time. At the state competition in May, she ran her 300-meter hurdle personal best: 46.46 seconds.

That time didn't get her to finals, but Shaniqua still impressed her coach.

"To see that huge improvement in such little time was amazing to me," said Wesley Chapel coach Kristi Frye. "She's a little powerhouse."

Shaniqua hasn't broken any school records. Yet.

"The girls who have the school record weren't at the level Shaniqua is now," Frye said.

Shaniqua hopes to run in college, but she's realistic. Sports aren't nearly as important to her as academics.

"With track, I never know what's going to happen," she said. "If I get sick or I get hurt, academics is something I would still have."

When she grows up, she wants to be a fashion designer.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

Wesley Chapel hurdler Shaniqua Hill raises money for Australia meet 02/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 5, 2009 9:13pm]

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