WESTON, Mass. - During her senior year at Regis College, Fatima St. Hilaire (Dorchester, Mass.) has officially qualified for the NCAA Division III National Championship meet at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio on Thursday, May 23.
The long journey to Ohio began in elementary school for Fatima, where she started her mornings racing the other students outside the school. The faculty took notice and suggested that she pick up track and field when she reached high school.
When she got to high school, she did join the team, but it was not her sole focus. With her school not having an indoor track and field season, she played soccer and basketball before starting her track and field career in the spring of her freshman year.
"It was funny because I never even got to do short sprints in high school. I did the 800, I had done the 4x400 once or twice, they even put me in the 400 and 400 hurdles," Fatima said, "I am not a hurdler, I just liked to jump over fire hydrants when we were running during warmups."
She credits her coaches with building her love of the sport. When Fatima finally started the long jump, she recalled stories of not having a long jump pit at the high school. "I would practice on the grass on our softball field and just run and jump in the grass. Whenever we got a chance we would go to a pit in Watertown."
After she received her acceptance letter from Regis, Fatima and her parents made the trip to campus during an open house. "My parents and I just fell in love (with campus)."
After coming onto campus and joining the team, Fatima credits assistant coach John Boisette for putting the championship meet on her radar.
"Right before he (Coach Boisette) started, right before we came back in the fall, he told me, 'I've been looking at your numbers, and I'm telling you, you could go all the way (to the National Championship).'"
Initially Fatima did not believe what Coach Boisette was saying and played it off as a need for someone to represent the school in the long jump. It was not until the first jump of her junior year, in January, that she knew she was capable of qualifying.
One of the most important factors during Fatima's career has been the support of her teammates and her coaches.
"People really do think that it's an individual sport and they see me doing all these great things, and having all these accomplishments, and they're all just 'this is all you' and it's really not all just me."
Acknowledging the struggle of knowing that in an individual sport, "You are your own worst critic," Fatima pointed out her teammates' role in her success, "Anytime I start speaking negatively of myself my teammates are the first ones to say, 'you need to cut it out, you can do this, and you are definitely capable.'"
She also credits Boisette and head coach Kourtney Bonsey with helping her reach this point. "They were the ones to say I could come back and do this again."
After the long journey that it took to get there, Fatima is still in shock that she has qualified. The support she has received is not just from her coaches, teammates, and family, but also from former Regis track and field athletes.
What are her goals for the meet? "I definitely want to PR." She also acknowledged the biggest takeaway from the event: her confidence. "The confidence that I gain from this is what will help me after this experience is over."
What advice would Fatima St. Hilaire give to herself before she started her long road to Ohio years ago?
"Fouls don't matter, and more confidence is necessary for you to reach your goals, they are not unattainable."