It’s not every day a high school can boast that one of their former students is an Olympic medalist.
But Pope John Paul II Secondary School had a lot to be proud of when Priscilla Lopes-Schliep brought home a bronze medal in the 100-metre hurdles from Beijing this summer.
Lopes-Schliep made a surprise visit to PJP II last week to show her medal to her high school coach, Neil Dalgarno and her former teachers.
As the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in the 100-metre hurdles, Lopes- Schliep thought it was an honour to bring the bronze medal home for Canada.
“It’s kind of cool to go down in history,” she said. “When I first heard that, I was like ‘Get out of town, this is so cool’.”
Excelling in track and field in elementary school, she proved to be a better-than-average athlete when she entered PJP II, Dalgarno said.
At one of the provincial OFSAA preliminaries, Lopes-Schliep competed in the 100-metre, 200-metre and relay races, qualifying for the 100.
“I didn’t have spikes … and all the girls had spikes,” she said. “So I made the finals in my flat tennis shoes and everyone was like ‘You’re really talented, you need to get a coach’.”
It wasn’t until Lopes-Schliep got her coach, Anthony McCleary, and joined club track that her track and field career began to take off.
“The more time she spent on the track, the better she did,” Dalgarno said.
Lopes-Schliep said she was hesitant at first to try hurdles.
“I was told I would be a good hurdler. I was like ‘I’m not doing hurdles, are you crazy, that’s dangerous’.”
Despite her concerns, she began to love running hurdles, no matter how the races went for her.
“The first time I tried it I went over it and I did it, but the second time I went over it I ended up falling down and wiping out really hard,” she said. “But I was like, you know what, I don’t care, I love it.”
After winning three OFSAA medals in grade 11, and breaking a TDCAA record in the 80-metre hurdles, Dalgarno knew Lopes-Schliep would leave her mark at PJP II.
“I knew she would leave behind a legacy at Pope,” he said. “Now, I never really would have guessed at the time the legacy would be national or international.”
Though Lopes-Schliep moved to Father Leo J. Austin Secondary School in Whitby for her final year, Dalgarno said they were lucky to have Priscilla at PJP II for three years.
“Never before had we a kid compete at the Olympics and medaling at the Olympics,” said Dalgarno, as he showed pictures of Priscilla competing in her first Olympics in Athens. “We’re definitely proud of her here.”
Lopes-Schliep said it is important for students to realize and achieve their goals.
“If you have the will and the drive and you believe it, there is no reason you can’t do something if you want it that bad,” she said. “Dream big, don’t hold back, and be the best that you can be.”