By Neil Patrick Healy
All athletes face some form of pressure and expectation. Whether it stems from the media, coaches, teammates or the roar of the crowd, the pressure can run rampant through an athletes’ psyche like a disease.
The pressure facing Nevada women’s track athlete Katherine Surin feels a little different. She faces the pressure of a gold standard — Olympic gold to be exact. Her father Bruny Surin won an Olympic gold metal in the 4×100 meter relay for Canada in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Katherine looks to achieve that standard by making a name for herself, and that name is already in the Nevada record books.
This Surin gold standard had humble beginnings. Katherine is descended from Haitian immigrants who arrived in Montreal, Canada in 1975. Her grandparents had to leave a 7-year-old Bruny in Haiti with his two sisters for a year before they could be brought over. Her grandmother was a dressmaker and her grandfather worked as a mechanic.
When Bruny won the gold medal in 1996, Katherine was a mere six-months old. From then on, she would have the expectations of being an Olympic gold metal winner’s daughter. Katherine’s demeanor shows she has what the elite athletes have, which is the calm state of mind while pressure stares her in the face.
“Being compared to my dad all the time got annoying sometimes, but I got used to it,” Katherine said. “Others thought that because I am the daughter of an Olympian that I would just be good at everything, but the pressure doesn’t get to me.”
Bruny knew Katherine and her sister Kimberley, who plays tennis at Penn State, would experience the burden of his success. It was apparent that Katherine inherited her father’s ability to handle pressure.
“I’ve seen her gain some advantage [because of my name] and I’ve seen her get some disadvantages as well,” Bruny said. “She doesn’t pay too much attention to it and would just move on. That was my attitude.”
That cool persona has benefited her greatly on the track. Coming out of high school, she received offers from programs around the country such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and UTEP. She chose Nevada so that she could compete right away. Katherine’s family name raised the interest of Nevada women’s track head coach Shantel Twiggs.
“DNA doesn’t lie,” Twiggs said. “In track and field circles, you know who Bruny Surin is. We were interested immediately.”
Katherine’s freshman season has been a successful one. She placed fourth in the 400-meter at the indoor championships this past March while setting a school record of 54.36 seconds. Katherine is now aiming for a first round appearance at nationals and then being able to compete for one of the 12 spots in the western division that compete in the NCAA finals in Eugene, Oregon. Twiggs attributes Katherine’s success to her calm persona and her ability to use that on the track.
“She runs to win, but she runs at a good even pace,” Twiggs said. “Some runners start fast and lose speed at the end, but not Katherine. She’s a patient athlete, and you can’t say that about a lot of athletes.”
The future is bright Katherine. Her short-term goals are to make the first round at nationals and after this season to make Team Canada. Her coach has high expectations going into her next three years at Nevada. Twiggs believes Katherine’s ceiling is limitless.
“The sky is the limit for her,” Twiggs said. “She could win national championships and be an All-American. We try to keep it in the here and now, but all of that is possible. She has a very bright future.”
Bruny also believes that Katherine can go as far as she wants to go.
“I believe that she can be one of the tops in the world someday, but she has to believe it,” Bruny said. “Already she has surprised me. She is still young and doesn’t have too much experience, but her future is in her hands.”
Katherine Surin will carry her father’s name and accomplishments with her for the rest of her life. The comparisons, pressure and criticisms will never stop. Every race, she is not only racing her opponents, but her father’s legacy. Her desire to make her own name shows her competitive spirit.
“I want to be good at what I do, but I don’t want to be compared to him,” Katherine said. “I want to make my own path.”
That path already has a school record and a potential birth at nationals as a freshman. What else may lie ahead of Katherine is in her control. As her father said, her future is in her hands.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.