Cooper overcomes the hurdle
June 9, 2009
This isn’t the place Angele Cooper expected to be -- running in the 400-meter hurdles in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships this weekend.
Cooper, a freshman at Texas, knew that track would be her ticket to success in life, but she never really expected success. The opposite, in fact.
“You shock yourself a lot when you have no expectations,” Cooper said. “I guess I just go day by day. I’m really pessimistic.”
That’s a good enough strategy. Cooper showed up on campus with speed, and then head coach Bev Kearney asked her to use it in a different way. Kearney assigned Cooper to the 400 hurdles, even though Cooper wasn’t really a jumper.
“Never in my life had I been over a hurdle,” Cooper said. “So, I just started to run and jump. It was shocking. The first time I tried it, I was laughing.”
You can’t laugh at Cooper’s results, though. She finished fourth in the event at the NCAA Midwest Regional with a personal-best time of 58.18. Cooper became the first UT freshman to advance to the national meet since Alexandria Anderson did so in 2006.
Cooper credits her mental focus, not speed, for her early success.
“You have to keep your mental state strong in order to not hurt,” Cooper said. “If you start thinking, then you will hurt, but if you are relaxed then you can run.”
That’s the reason Cooper started herself in track to begin with -- not because she thought she was fast, but because she wanted to become stronger mentally.
“I knew it was the best way for me to learn how to focus,” Cooper said. “I knew that in order to be successful in life I would have to learn how to run track.”
Now, before track meets, Cooper has a strange way of reaching that escalated state of focus. She gets behind her block, pounds her chest and makes noises, “all vampire-like.”
“I start yelling at myself, ‘It’s too easy to quit,’ and people look at me like I’m crazy,” Cooper explains.
And, for sure, Cooper beats to her own drum. Though she grew up wanting to be a doctor, Cooper says now that she aspires to join a police force and qualify for the SWAT team.
“I’ve always been that person who wanted to save lives,” Cooper said.
In some ways, Cooper sees her future career a lot like her current quest on the track -- it’s all anchored by what goes on between the ears.
“It’s just all mental,” Cooper said. “Life is just a mental board game, a big board game. Gosh, why can’t we all get handed $5 million dollars and live life? Like Monopoly? But that would be too easy.”