Tia-Adana Belle stayed seated on the track at IMG Academy Field, waiting at the finish line and looking into the distance as trainers stood at either side. Belle is only 20 years old, yet she had a full collegiate career to reflect on — national championships, Olympic berths and NCAA records. This Saturday at the NCAA Women’s Division II Outdoor Track and Field National Championships she had pulled off one feat only one other women ever had and another no one had.
“You ran really fast,” one of the trainers told her as Belle just kept smiling and sighing between deep breaths. The St. Augustine’s University senior had just won her third straight national title in the 400-meter hurdles, becoming only the second woman in the history of Division II to pull such a feat off, and she did it by breaking her own record by crossing the finish line at IMG Academy in 55.42 seconds.
“I just ran my heart out,” Belle said.
At only 20, though, it’s far from the end of hurdling for Belle, who’s the latest success story in St. Augustine’s remarkable Barbados-to-Raleigh, N.C., pipeline. Belle, who ran for a former Falcon as a high-school athlete at Foundation School in Oistins, represented her home country as a 20-year-old at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil while former St. Augustine’s sprinter Ramon Gittens carried the flag and Burkheart Ellis, who was the D-II Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year for the Falcons in 2016, ran alongside Gittens in the 200 dash.
55.42Time, in seconds, of St. Augustine’s University’s Tia-Adana Belle’s record-setting 400-meter hurdles run at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in Bradenton.
At St. Augustine’s this year, Belle was one of four Barbadians on the Falcons’ 14-athlete women’s roster. Landing with the Falcons, who possess the D-II records for both men’s and women’s hurdles, was the perfect fit for Belle. She was promising in a variety of hurdles, but the 400 was where she had the greatest chance to become a star and by arriving in North Carolina as a 17-year-old, head coach George Williams had his chance to shape his latest Barbadian protege from a young age.
“That is a good pipeline,” the head coach said. “My past student-athletes recruit for me better than I can recruit myself.”
Belle quickly became one of the brightest young hurdlers in the world when she began working with Williams. The summer after her freshman season, Belle traveled to Ukraine for the 2013 World Youth Championships in Athletics. It was the highest profile stage of her career and she zipped around the track in 58.42 seconds to take home a silver medal.
My past student-athletes recruit for me better than I can recruit myself.
George Williams, St. Augustine’s University head coach
A year later, Belle won gold in Mexico at the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships in Athletics less than two months after she won her first national title.
Since then, Belle has run at the Pan American Games, the NACAC Championships in Athletics and, of course, last year’s Summer Olympics, where she finished 27th.
“She’s got at least three or four more Olympics,” Williams said, “you know what I mean?”
On Saturday in Bradenton, during the final day of the D-II championships, she provided a reminder she’s still growing. She admits this season was mostly a struggle in the 400 — she hadn’t run faster than a 56.30 all year — so she needed her third straight championship to be special.
She went through her usual pre-race routine of blasting Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and hyping herself up, and could tell early on that she was running her best race of the season until she was awash with emotion at the finish line.
She’ll stay in Raleigh through the summer to train with Williams and then graduate in December. She’ll only be 21.
“And then I’m going to just run,” Belle said. “I’ll go with the flow.”