Standing high atop everyone on the podium at the MSHSAA State Track and Field Championships must have felt like standing on top of a mountain for McDonald County’s Courtni Smith on Saturday. Considering what she’s gone through and endured this season to reach the pinnacle, perhaps she felt more like she was standing on the moon.
Smith, who claimed the girls’ Class 3 state championship in the long jump on Saturday, said she didn’t have words to describe the feeling afterwards.
“I’m numb,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I still really can’t believe it. It’s exciting. I don’t really know if it’s sank in yet.”
Flashback several months ago to late 2013, and that same quote probably would have best described Smith’s feelings when her and her family were rocked with the loss of their home one night due to a fire. Shocked and devastated, they took the clothes they had on their backs and what little they had left and sought refuge at a hotel for a time. They would later be welcomed into the home of Mustangs head baseball coach Nick Martin, and later moved again to Courtni’s aunt’s house after that while they attempted to get back on their feet.
As the family shuffled around, they tried not to allow their misfortune to get the best of them or become a complete distraction. Courtni leaned even more heavily on her athletic career to keep her mind at ease, and was lucky enough to find plenty of mental support along the way.
“I just tried to stay around positive people and I try to think positive, because I can get a little negative sometimes,” Smith said. “I’ve got to stay around positive people sometimes to keep my head up.”
The daughter of a coach, Smith did what came natural to her and kept her nose to the grindstone. She was determined to keep a positive attitude and overcome the obstacles in front of her. With the Mustang community rallying around her and her family, Smith pushed forward, determined to make the most of her senior year.
She immediately stepped back on the softball field, to the praise of Mustangs coach Tray Shaddox, and never missed a beat. She went on to have a standout season on the diamond for the very successful Lady Mustangs’ softball team, earning personal awards along the way. She also was a starter and key member of the basketball team’s successful run.
The whirlwind year continued when she parlayed her success on the softball field into an offer and acceptance to play softball at Crowder College next season. Then the topping on the cake came on Saturday at the state track meet at Dwight T. Reed Stadium on the campus of Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
After a great sectional meet in which she qualified for state in three events, Smith began her quest at state with an 11th place finish in the long jump with a distance of 16-feet, 3.25 inches. She returned with a renewed sense of determination on Saturday and wound up on the medal stand in her first event — tying with Hallsville’s Mylin Kilpack for fourth place in the high jump with a leap of 5-foot-3.
Perhaps the glimpse and feel of that medal served as a little added motivation to lay it all on the line in her last event.
Her thoughts going into the competition remained simple.
“Just jump,” Smith said she told herself. “No pressure, really. There was nothing riding on this, so it was good to just relax, go out and jump.”
Perhaps it was already programmed into her DNA, but Smith used the same hard-nosed approach for the triple jump that she used to get through the tragic moments that left her home a charred reminder of what’s important.
“I’ve had to overcome a lot,” she said. “But it’s nothing that’s impossible to overcome. Just keep looking forward, looking ahead and keep doing your best. Whatever happens, happens.”
Feeling like she had nothing to lose, Smith buckled down and pushed all of her chips to the center, put it all on the line and threw every ounce of effort she had into the final jump of her career. It was fitting that she landed on her feet.
When she emerged from the sandbox, she’d made her mark some 36-feet, 11.75 inches from her original starting point. It was the longest she’d ever jumped in the event before. It was also some five inches longer than anyone else in the state of Missouri in Class 3 would jump.
“I really still can’t believe it,” she repeated.
Smith said she’s ready to move on to college and her future career with the Lady ‘Riders, but will always look back and appreciate what the last four years have done to mold her into the person she is now.
“It’s been awesome,” she said of her high school career. “I’m ready to be done, but it’s a little bittersweet. It’s been an amazing four years of high school. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
From tears of heartbreak to tears of joy, Courtni Smith has come a long way emotionally in the past seven months. She happily points out that her family found a home to rent and is in the process of rebuilding the one they lost. In the whiplash of life she’s gone from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, but in the end she emerged landing on both feet, a champion.