Missouri hurdler hopes to make leap to NCAA finals

Friday, May 14, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Leslie Farmer holds the school record for the 400-meter hurdles, but she says the mark isn't as important as becoming fast enough to compete a the NCAA's national meet.

COLUMBIA — The youngest child usually gets picked on or excluded. But for Missouri hurdler Leslie Farmer, 20, attempting to keep up with her older brother, 23, and sister, 25, was a source of motivation.

Big 12 Conference Track & Field Meet

WHEN: Friday, Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Audrey J. Walton Track & Field Complex
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It took almost 15 years to catch up to them. Losing races to her older siblings throughout her childhood just made her work harder, and by high school she was beating them. Neither of her siblings ran track, both competed in sports that conflicted with the track season, but they raced for fun and Farmer began to enjoy it.

When it came time for college, her Missouri roots made the Missouri track program seem like the perfect fit.

Her family has been a guiding force in her track career. Farmer, a sophomore, says she loves running track in Columbia knowing that home in Jefferson City is only a short drive away.

“I’m really close to my family, and being from Jefferson City it’s a nice escape on my off day to go home,” Farmer said. She is busy with track and school Monday through Saturday, so Sundays are her days to relax.

Being at home means baking with her mom or doing a crafty activity together. Home is where she can put her feet up and relax, whether it’s playing video games or listening to music with her brother and sister. Bogey, her 100-pound golden retriever, also joins in on the fun. And if she spends the night, she always has a family breakfast at Mel’s, their favorite diner, to look forward to.

“It’s definitely relaxing to go home and it’s a good way to get rid of stress,” Farmer said.

Balancing her rigorous course load and track can be hectic. Farmer is majoring in biology and economics as a pre-med student. The economics classes are something she is interested in and provide breaks in her schedule from taking purely science classes. Going home offers Farmer a quiet place to study as well.

Since the time she was little, Farmer has been ready to face challenges. Her hardest classes are also the ones that she finds most interesting. In her cell biology class, she learned how muscles work, and in nutrition, she learned about her dietary needs as an athlete.

“It’s interesting to apply what I learn in class to myself,” Farmer said.

Applying herself is something Farmer does well. Last semester she earned straight A’s, and on the track, she broke the one-minute mark in the 400-meter hurdles. She ran a 1:00.44 in the event at last year's John McDonnell Invitational to break the school record set in 1987 by Felicia Allen by a 10th of a second. This season, she has improved the mark two more times.

“I don’t run just to break records, I want to see how low I can get my time,” Farmer said. “I’m not so concerned about breaking the record, it’s more so getting my time fast enough to compete in nationals.”

Her best time is in the top-50 this season among NCAA Division I competitors. The top-48 qualify for the NCAA regionals where runners compete for berths at the NCAA championships.

“Coaching Leslie is pretty exciting," MU sprint coach Derrick Peterson said. "She’s an exciting athlete, she’s a good person, she is a joy to work with on a daily basis, and knowing that she shares that same drive both academically and athletically that I like to see in all of my athletes makes it pretty exciting.”

Last year Farmer qualified for the NCAA Mideast Regional, but did not advance. Since she was still 19 years old, Farmer was eligible to compete in the USA junior trials and qualified for the finals, where she placed in the top 10. Farmer's best 400-meter hurdles time this season is 59.58 seconds, and her goal for this weekend's Big 12 Conference outdoor championships is to break the 59-second barrier.

Missouri is hosting the Big 12 meet Friday through Sunday at Audrey J. Walton Stadium, making the event special for Missouri head track coach Rick McGuire, who will retire at the end of the season. But it will also be special for Farmer, whose family only has a short trip to come and support her.

“My dad is really interested in my track and helps me improve,” Farmer said. “So I’m excited to have the Big 12 championships at home so my family and friends who are in town can come.”

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Andrew Del-Colle May 14, 2010 | 3:41 p.m.

Awesome photo, August.

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