Juan Labreche/NCAA Photos
Lorenda Holston hated Colorado State.
Four years ago, when everything was different, she hated everything about it. It was a life of spinning wheels and spilled tears.
But that was then.
Now, the senior holds a different attitude. She can talk about that past with a smile because she no longer feels stuck.
Now, she is only moving forward.
Out of Place
Holston came to CSU from Fayetteville, Georgia for a chance — a chance to get away from home and a chance for an education. She did not have the means to pay for school on her own, and nobody in her family had been to college before her.
In fact, Holston was not even planning to run track in college, but when CSU offered her a scholarship she signed up.
It was not long before she started having second thoughts.
“When I first got here, I was completely out of my element,” Holston said. “Nobody looked like me, nobody talked like me. I struggled academically, athletically, socially and psychologically. Anyway you could struggle, I struggled.”
Freshman year was full of tears and doubt. She came here to run, but she could not find her place on the track.
Holston had never truly been a part of a track team before. In high school, she was just faster than everyone else and all she had to really do was show up. She had no idea of how demanding, both physically and mentally, it was to be a collegiate athlete.
So in the one place she should have felt home — on the track — she felt lost.
“My freshman year, my mindset was this is new and I’m scared so I’m just going to hate this thing because I can’t fix it or I can’t change it,” Holston said.
Nothing could go right. She wanted out, but she had nowhere to go.
“This was my only option, I didn’t have any other options,” Holston said. “So I had to switch my mindset to, ‘okay you are kind of stuck here so what are you gonna do now.’”
As a sophomore, after a year of pain, things started to run around.
Her coach, Karim Abdel Wahab, saw something in her. He saw a hurdler. So going into her sophomore year, Holston switched events.
“I noticed she had a great natural range of motion, flexibility, and mobility,” Wahab said. “(I saw) a lot of stuff that I did not see as a sprinter and we started from zero teaching her the hurdles.”
It was not the only switch she made as a sophomore. She came to CSU as a Health and Exercise Science major. She was an athlete, and she thought it was her only option.
But then she failed kinesiology, and she knew it was not for her. When she switched her major to communications with a minor in sociology and loved it. She finally figured out how to decide what was best for herself.
“We changed my major and we changed my event and that’s when I actually started hurdling,” Holston said. “I was happy at school. I was excited to come to practice because I was learning something new, so I believe that was the switch, or the ‘ah- ha’ moment, where it was like, ‘this is new and it’s okay.'”
After that, Holston was not scared of change. She had a new lease on life, and a new lease on the track.
Out of Nowhere
That new lease on track started off as more of the same.
“We had so many races when we started running the 60-meter hurdles her sophomore year when she could not even make it to hurdle one,” Wahab said. “She would stutter out of the blocks – it was a disaster.”
Not much went right for Holston her first indoor season as a hurdler. As one of the few track athletes with a full-scholarship, she had a lot to live up to, and she was not doing it.
“I remember crying every meet because it was like, ‘I do not have anything to prove to my coach of why I should be here,’” Holston said. “On paper, I suck. Literally, I don’t have a time or anything to show people that what I am doing is something great.”
But something happened that sophomore year. During outdoor season, she found her stride. After less than a year of hurdling, she made it to the second day of NCAA regionals in 2015. She was one of the top-24 hurdlers in the Western NCAA region.
“I was not even expecting to make it to day two,” Holston said. “But it was like, oh crap, this is real. It was awesome. It was a moment where I just thought anything was possible.”
Her junior year outdoors, she did even better. At a meet in Texas in April 2016, Holston ran what she thought was a terrible race. She cried. Then, she found out she broke the school record in the 100-meter hurdles and she cried even more, but with different kinds of tears.
She upped the school record again when she took third place at the 2016 outdoor conference championships.
She always felt at home outdoors — like that is how track is supposed to be run. But inside, she could not put together a complete race.
Her 2016 indoor season was the same story of struggle. At the indoor conference championships last season, she sat in sweatpants during the finals of the 60-meter hurdles wondering why she was still competing.
So she put indoor on the back-burner. After her school-record breaking 2016 outdoor campaign, her and Wahab had a plan going into this 2017 indoor season. Holston was going to focus fully on getting out of her start and making it through hurdle four. If she could treat indoor season like an extended practice and correct her mistakes, she would blossom the in outdoors.
But then something funny happened. In her first 2017 indoor meet at the University of Colorado, Holston broke the school record in the 60-meter hurdles. The next meet she did it again. The third meet? Same story.
On Feb. 10 in New Mexico, Holston broke it for a fourth time. Her time of 8.06 set at that meet is not only the school record, but the Mountain West record. If that was not enough, she is going to NCAA indoor nationals this March.
Not bad for an athlete who was just trying to make it through indoor season.
“Heading to Nationals was not part of my plan coming into this indoor season,” Holston said. “I never would have expected that. My plan was to just fix the first four hurdles because that’s where I struggle outdoors.”
“There were a lot of tears her sophomore year and junior year indoors,” Wahab said. “She did not even make the conference final last year, and now she is the conference record holder.”
Holston says that when she first started hurdling, she could not understand why Wahab had her doing it. In the beginning, she knew little outside of failure.
Now, she realizes the vision.
“I trusted my instinct and I trusted her talent — more than she trusted it,” Wahab said. “It’s the truth. Coaches see something that athletes do not see yet. In her case, luckily I was right.”
“Now I am here four years later,” Holston said as she looked out across the Glenn Morris field house with a smile.
She graduates in May. She just got accepted to graduate school at CSU. She has indoor conference championships coming up where she will be the favorite in the 60-meter hurdles. Two weeks after that, she is headed to College Station, Texas for NCAA indoor Nationals.
She has come a hell of a long way.
Wahab tells a story from early on in her sophomore year back when it was all uncertainty for Holston. When Holston came back from Georgia after the summer, he asked her why she came back. It was a very stressful environment for her. He knew quitting was a possibility.
“Basically, she told me she did not want to be lazy and hangout at home and not have a future,” Wahab said. “She willingly decided to commit to her future and it’s been amazing ever since.”
Holston says she knew where she was going if she was not at CSU — nowhere.
But, she has found somewhere to go. When she looks back on her struggle, she finds that it molded her into who she is today.
She wants to go to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in student affairs and higher education. She sees a future in player development.
About turning her life around her sophomore year, Holston said, “I made that decision by myself, but if I would have had help, I think that I would have had that decision making moment a lot sooner.”
Holston felt like she was on her own far too often in the midst of her struggle. She’s making it her purpose in life to make sure that other student-athletes have the help she did not have.
“I want to be in a position where there is someone there who has experienced it, and has knowledge behind it and can help people go through it,” Holston said. “Essentially what I want to do is create programs for students, or student athletes, around those tough subjects of homesickness, misplacement, diversity and inclusion.”
Today, she mentors a small group of athletes and students, trying to guide them through campus and build identities outside of sports.
She has been there and done that.
Now, she is a far cry from the lost freshman who came to CSU mostly because she was given money to go to school.
“My journey has been… so unique,” Holston said. “Every year, there has been some type of growth in a different aspect of my life whether it be athletically, socially, academically or physically.”
She says, she sometimes looks back on where she has come from for some extra motivation and perspective.
But that is only sometimes. She has a different focus now.
“I don’t like to look too far back because I feel like it’s not over yet and I don’t want to get stuck reflecting on that and miss out on what I’m doing now,” she said.
Holston was stuck before, but that is not what defines her. What defines her is where she is now. A place where hatred became happiness.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Eric_Wolf5