Anna Cockrell is used to winning almost every race she runs.
The Providence Day rising senior is among the top hurdlers and sprinters in the nation. She is a five-time All-American, 12-time state champ and recently was named the N.C. Gatorade girls’ track Athlete of the Year.
The 17-year-old owns the all-time N.C. state record in each of the hurdle events: 55 meters (7.63), 60 meters (8.21), 100 meters (13.21), 300 meters and 400 meters (57.70).
She set those records within the last four months, and those times are among the best in the nation this year, according to usa.milesplit.com.
Cockrell posted the third-fastest time in the country June 21 in the 400-meter hurdles at the New Balance Nationals, the fourth-fastest time in the nation June 6 in the 100-meter hurdles at the NCRunners/SCRunners Elite Tune-up and the No. 6 time May 15 in the 300-meter hurdles at the NCISAA 3A state meet.
If you think she is satisfied, however, you’re wrong.
“Whenever I win a race, I let myself get excited about it for about an hour and a half after I get home,” said Cockrell, who lives in Waxhaw. “I take a shower, get something to eat and then sit down and watch the tape of that race and analyze everything I did wrong and think about how I can get better.”
Cockrell failed to finish first in only three races this outdoor season.
Two of those losses came earlier this month at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, when Cockrell finished third at 100 and 400 meters. While both earned her All-American status, Cockrell left feeling she could have been better.
“I hate losing, period,” said Cockrell, laughing, whose only other non-first-place finish came in April when she finished third in the 400-meter hurdles at the Penn Relays.
“I have nothing but respect for anyone who beats me, but I always want to be the best. I did well at nationals, but I was frustrated because I felt like I could have been a little better.… I want to win a national championship more than anything.”
While Cockrell’s inspiration often comes from things she hasn’t accomplished, Providence Day coach Carol Lawrence gives her only a minute to be upset about a given race.
“Coach Lawrence always reminds me right after I run, ‘You’ve got 60 seconds to be upset and then you have to let it go,’” said Cockrell, noting she first heard about the practice from the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter hurdles, Dawn Harper.
“I’m not always concerned with Anna winning a race,” said Lawrence, who was a hurdler/sprinter herself at New York Institute of Technology. “I want her to constantly be focused on improving her execution. If she can do that, the results will follow.”
Cockrell has been on the run constantly in May and June, but her season almost ended before she got started.
During the first week of May, leading up to the CISAA conference championships May 8, the top of Cockrell’s left foot was swelling, forcing her out of the hurdle events.
Running through the pain, Cockrell still won the 100- and 200-meter sprints.
A week later, she returned to normal form, running her way to four more NCISAA state titles. The Providence Day girls also won their third straight NCISAA 3A state title.
Cockrell then ran in the NCRunners/SC Runners’ Elite Tune-up in Waxhaw at Marvin Ridge High, setting a state record in the 100-meter dash at 13.21.
But the following week, she said, was one of the highlights of her relatively young track career. She traveled with some of the top runners in the country to the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in Havana, Cuba.
“That was my first time running internationally, and it was incredible to be part of a team with so many great athletes,” said Cockrell, who won the 100- and 400-meter hurdles in Cuba. “To be a part of the first U.S. athletes to go to Cuba in 25 years was a big responsibility, and we were all really proud to represent our country.”
Cockrell said she hopes she has the chance to represent the U.S. later this summer, at the Pan American Junior Championships in Canada on July 31-Aug. 2, but she will have to earn that opportunity by finishing in the top two of the 100 or 400 hurdles at the USA Junior Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore; she was scheduled to run there June 26-28.
Cockrell will go into her senior season looking to break her own records. She also hopes to decide where she will continue her track career in college, where she will take not only her stellar records on the track but also her 4.36 GPA in the classroom.
Cockrell is following in the footsteps of a talented athletic family. Her father, Keith, played football at Cornell. Her older brother, Ross, played football at Duke and is now a cornerback for the Buffalo Bills. Her older sister, Ciera, will play volleyball at Davidson College.
Anna says she keeps her focus on the moment. “The way I look at it, no matter what you’ve done in the past, if you don’t go out and prove it the next race, then it doesn’t matter,” she said.
“The reason I love track is that every time you get on that starting line, you’re trying to not only be the best in that race but you’re trying to be the best you’ve ever been,” Cockrell said.
“That’s my goal every time I run.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at email@example.com.