It's hard to imagine now that former West Potomac High track and field star Tiombe' Hurd had to be talked into trying out for the Wolverines' squad as a sophomore.
"She did not come out as a freshmen," said former West Potomac High head track coach Don Beeby, in a 2004 story on the former Olympian. "I said [to her], `Come on, you can be a great jumper.' I saw her on the basketball court shooting baskets. I said, "Why don't you consider track?" She said, "Yeah, I think I will."
Over the course of the remainder of her high school years and beyond, Hurd, who was born in Upper Malboro, Md., grew to love track and field and, in particular, the triple jump event in which she became a world class specialist.
It was obvious as a high school underclassman that Hurd had the athletic talent to excel in the prep school track and field world if she desired to pursue it. And, with time, she did. Beeby, who had Hurd in his World Cultures class at the time, realized that the bright, personable Hurd — with her body type and athleticism — had a huge upside in the sport.
"She was tall, lanky and well-spoken," said Beeby.
Her course as an athlete would be set over those few years of competing at West Potomac where she was under the capable guidance of then head coach Beeby and assistants Inez Bryant, currently the new assistant principal at Freedom High School in Woodbridge, and Michael Scudieri.
Hurd began learning the nuts and bolts fundamentals of track, and was fortunate to be under the tutelage of her three outstanding coaches. The other aspect Hurd was learning while a youngster at West Potomac was the amount of discipline and hard work it took to be a track athlete at West Potomac.
"[Coach Beeby] was the head women's coach, but Inez was the sprint coach, and Mike was the jump coach," recalled Hurd. "So I spent most of my time training with Inez and Mike. [Coach Bryant] was a taskmaster. I remember having to run some horrible 400-meter workouts and doing reps on `Scudieri Hill,' a very steep hill near West Potomac that Mike discovered. I remember Mike making me hopping on the grass all the time. Those are the memories I have of putting in all the hard work."
All the hard work began to pay off for Hurd, who, as a junior, was runner-up in the triple jump at the state AAA track and field championships. The following year as a 12th grader, Hurd won state indoor and outdoor titles in the event. She was also the state runner-up in the 400 dash.
Beeby said Hurd had the right combination of ability, desire to win, and discipline to learn and implement what she learned in competitions.
"She had the natural ability," recalled Beeby. "She was anxious to learn and did everything she could."
Bryant, who just recently left her job with West Potomac's administrative staff to move on to Freedom High, could tell Hurd had a knack for the triple jump.
"I knew she would be successful," said Bryant, who to this day remains close with Hurd. "You learn to love the event you specialize in. I think she's always had the desire to be the best."
Hurd, throughout her three years as a Wolverine, competed in numerous events. She was a Northern Region champion in the quarter-mile and a key member of the West Potomac girls relay teams.
Her coaches stressed to her the importance of `Team' and being a part of it as opposed to being bent on succeeding as an individual first.
As a result, Beeby said Hurd's talents were used to help the Wolverines succeed.
"She was overextended starting her sophomore year and through her senior year," said Beeby. "We had no choice. It was always team first."
Competing as an elite high school athlete helped Hurd learn how to focus better both as an athlete and as a student at West Potomac.
"I'd say her senior year, she was extremely focused," said Beeby.
A.K. Johnson, former T.C. Williams Athletic Director, said Hurd's desire to do the best she could in all areas of her life was quite apparent.
"She was a fierce competitor," said Johnson. "She was very friendly, very sociable with everyone and very coachable. West Potomac did a great job with her. She was special."
FOLLOWING HIGH SCHOOL, Hurd attended James Madison University where she continued to compete as a student-athlete. As a junior, she was the NCAA runner-up in the triple jump before winning the national title in the event as a senior.
Her goals of being an Olympic athlete fell just short for both the 1996 and 2000 Games.
"I competed in the 1996 Olympic Trials, but at that time I was too young and inexperienced and didn't make the final," she said.
As a more experienced athlete four years later, Hurd nearly earned a U.S. team spot for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. She finished third at the Trials, but did not have the qualifying mark to make the squad.
"I missed the Olympic qualifying standard by four seconds and was not allowed to compete in Sydney," she recalled. "I was so depressed. It was hard to watch my friends on TV, wishing I could be there."
But Hurd had worked too hard and loved the sport too much to give it a rest. In 2001, she was third in the triple jump at the World Indoor Games in Spain with a mark of 46-feet, 6-1/2 inches. The accomplishment was a U.S. breakthrough because it marked the first time an American woman had ever medalled at the World Games.
She was still determined to qualify for the Olympic Games and had her focus set on making the U.S. squad which would compete at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece. This time, at the Trials, things came together for the determined Hurd, who finished first in triple jump with an all-time American women's mark of 47 feet, 5 inches.
Hurd, who had naturally been concerned about failing to make the Olympic team again, said at the time she had been competing well in her event leading up to the 2000 Trials.
"I had been jumping well... so my main goal was to get the qualifier and make the team," said Hurd. "Breaking the American record was a wonderful bonus. ...My day finally came, and it was wonderful."
Hurd did, indeed, go on to compete in Athens. There, she finished 13th in her qualifying group and 22nd overall. Her best jump overall was 45-feet, 10-1/2 inches.
"I felt really good in the warm-ups, and they went well; but unfortunately when it was time to jump, my steps were off, and I was stutter-stepping to the board," said Hurd, in an article following those 2004 Games. "I just couldn't jump well. I felt really great training in Athens, but when you get to the big day, you've got to make it happen and I didn't. I wish I could have had a better performance with my parents in the stands."
Although she did not earn an Olympic medal, she will always be called an Olympian. And, make no mistake, Hurd will also always be a Wolverine as well.
Tiombe' Hurd is 54 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.