Stacey Bowers-Smith (right) helped Chris Gillis earn All-America honors in long jump.
Sept. 21, 2009
By Jerry Hill
Stacey Bowers-Smith has no desire to come out of retirement and compete like she did 10 years ago, when she became Baylor's first female individual NCAA national champion by winning the outdoor triple jump with a leap of 45 feet, 10 inches.
"I'd probably break every bone in my body," said the 32-year-old Smith, who's entering her eighth season as an assistant coach with Baylor's track and field program.
These days, she channels her burning competitive desire through the athletes she trains.
When junior DeAna Carson finished fifth in the long jump at this year's NCAA Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., you couldn't have wiped that smile off Smith's face if you tried.
"When DeAna was jumping at NCs this year, I was like, `This is the kind of competition I love.' That's when I really miss it," she said. "I think they see how excited I get and how pumped up I get. And that just rolls over to them, and they feel it. Through them, I still get that joy and and that adrenaline rush. It's just a joy in watching them succeed and do it, because I know they can and I know how fun it is when you do it. That's the reason I am the way I am."
And it's the reason why Smith was elected to the 2009 induction class for the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame, which will be honored at the annual Hall of Fame banquet at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Ferrell Center.
"I think I was in shock more than anything," said Smith, when asked about her initial reaction to being elected to the Hall of Fame. "It's unbelievable. I'm actually kind of nervous, because I've asked all of the coaches that coached me to be there that night. So I'm a little nervous about the speech."
In the athletic circle, though, she had ice-water veins.
After leading the triple jump throughout the 1999 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Smith was passed by defending national champion Trecia Smith of Pittsburgh on the final round of jumps. But faced with another runner-up finish, she popped off a 45-10 jump that put her on the gold-medal stand.
"I remember on the runway I was like, `No, I'm not going to let her beat me,''' Stacey said. "She's done it too many times. I didn't get it indoors when I went in ranked No. 1. I'm not losing it again. So I pretty much gave it all I had and went for it on that last jump. I was like, `I am not losing today.'''
The most decorated female athlete in the program's history, Bowers-Smith was a nine-time All-American and four-time conference champion who still holds the top 10 marks indoors and outdoors in the triple jump. She earned more individual All-American honors (six) than any other female athlete in school history and is tied with three others for the most overall.
While the triple jump became her specialty, Smith was originally recruited to run on the program's signature event, the 4x400-meter relay. She still remembers earning her first All-American honor at the end of her freshman season, when she ran the third leg on a 4x400 relay that finished fifth.
"I've never been as nervous as I was that day," she said. "I thought I was just warming up as an alternate. But then about five minutes before the race, Coach (Clyde) Hart said, `Stacey, you're going to run.' And I was like, `What?' I think I was scored more than anything, but it worked."
Before winning the national championship, Smith broke her own school record and won the Big 12 title before a home crowd at the Hart/Patterson Track and Field Complex with a leap of 46 feet, 1 ¼ inches.
"I had jumped 45-3 indoors, so I knew outdoors was going to be either that or better," she said. "Right before the Big 12 Championships, I had already set my sights on jumping big. If I got a hot, perfect day with no wind, everything's going to come together. And the other girls were jumping amazing that day. That's what helped me get that jump."
Although she was ranked No. 1 in the country going in, Smith finished fourth at the Olympic Trials in 2000 and failed to make the team again in '04 before hanging it up for good.
"I started grad school in 2000 and finished my master's in 2002, and that's when I started focusing on (coaching) more than jumping," she said. "I was trying to coach, I was trying to go to school and I was trying to jump. And there was not just no way I could do it. And then the financial support in this country as far as jumpers is not good at all. So I knew I needed to make a living for myself. At the Trials in '04, I ended up maybe fifth or sixth and said, `That's it. I'm done.'''
In addition to Carson, her pupils have included April Holliness, a five-time All-American in the long jump who finished as high as third at the NCAA Championships; Jordan Willmann, a two-time All-American who set school records in the pentathlon and heptathlon; Chris Gillis, who was third in the long jump at the 2006 NCAA Championships; and triple jumper Jessica Unbanyionwu, who was fifth this summer at the Pan American Junior Championships.
Smith is married to former Baylor football and basketball player Rodney Smith, who's an assistant basketball and track and field coach at University High School in Waco. The couple have two children, Sydney Nicole and London.