While Alia Armstrong was warming up for a routine workout one afternoon on an outdoor track in Corona, Calif., the 14-year-old sprinter spotted a trash can.
His mother, Alicia, watched sideways. A star hurdler at Mississippi State in the early 90s, Alicia volunteered as a hurdler coach for her daughter’s high school track team. She knew that Alia had inherited her speed, agility and quickness – but Alicia, always a careful and protective mother, couldn’t bear the thought of her daughter stepping over an obstacle and falling.
Alia played football and ran sprints. Until this afternoon in ninth grade.
Just for fun, Alia jumped over the trash can. She soon received a scolding from her mother in the distance. Whether she heard it or not, Alia kept running and jumped over another trash can.
That’s when Alicia stopped, exchanged a quick glance with the school’s head coach, and had an idea.
She put some hurdles on the ground and instructed her daughter. Run and as you jump, she said, pull your trail leg over the obstacle, lower your lead leg and land three quick steps between the barriers.
“She literally imitated me, like she walked into my own body,” Alicia said. “I literally imitated what I told him to do. It was like she was natural.
Seven years later, Alia is at LSU, following in her mother’s footsteps as a 100-meter hurdles champion. She ran a wind-assisted 12.33 seconds at the outdoor event earlier this season in Austin, Texas, setting the collegiate record and placed first in the event at the Southern Conference Championships. -east and NCAA Eastern Preliminaries.
That means she’s the favorite to win the June 9-11 NCAA Track & Field Championships event in Eugene, Oregon.
She will also lead the first leg of the Tigers’ 4×100 relay team, ranked first in the SEC and third in the nation. And Alia has a good chance of advancing to the USATF Championships later in June and qualifying for the U.S. National Team at the World Championships this summer.
No matter how far Alia travels, Alicia will be there with her. The eldest Armstrong has only missed one of her daughter’s collegiate meets, and she’s already booked her flight for the NCAA meet and the world championships.
“I feel like a born hurdler,” Alia said. (My mother) did all of this. She had the experience, so she was able to bring all this knowledge to me and give me everything I needed to become who I am today.
Alicia grew up in New Orleans in the 80s and attended the old John McDonogh High School near Tremé. She followed her high school coach to Mississippi State and returned home after school to work as a police officer in New Orleans.
But when Alia arrived, Alicia only wanted to be a mom. She didn’t want to work weekends or holidays. She had no interest in staying put for the hurricanes. And she certainly wouldn’t miss the first day Alia crawled or walked. So she packed her bags and moved in with her grandparents in Los Angeles, where Alia was born.
She didn’t consider returning home until the summer of 2015, when she attended the funeral of Daryle Holloway, an NOPD cop who was shot and killed in his squad car by a suspect he was transporting.
“When I saw all those blue uniforms,” Alicia said, “my heart sank. Like, this is home.
By then her daughters were older and she was still young enough to re-enter the workforce. Alicia moved her family to East New Orleans, where she resumed her cop duties. Alia enrolled in downtown high school, St. Katherine Drexel Prep. After missing her second year due to transfer rules, she went into hurdles full-time, which meant she only had two years to get a scholarship.
Alicia volunteered again to help coach the track team, so she and Alia stayed on after practice later, burning up the daylight, running drills, perfecting her technique, and leaning on the foundations that Alia has established with his experience as a footballer.
Soon, Alia was dusting off her local competition. Alicia wanted her daughter to compete with the best and hopefully catch the eye of college scouts. At his expense, the mother and daughter left the New Orleans-area trails behind — Tad Gormley, Harrell and Joe W. Brown — and traveled to New York, New Mexico, Texas and in North Carolina.
Alia would sit in the backseat, relax and stretch her long legs while her mother sipped coffee at the wheel.
The accolades piled up: 2018 USATF Junior Olympic Champion, 2018 New Balance Outdoors Finalist, USATF Junior Olympic National Record Holder, 2x New Balance Nationals All-American.
“They challenged her, and that helped her go faster,” Alicia said. “And the next thing you know, we had DI schools all over the country that wanted Alia.”
Alia chose LSU, and when she started racing in the 2020 indoor season, her mom pulled out and let Dennis Shaver coach her daughter. She still watches from the stands at every encounter, holding her breath when Alia is ensconced in the blocks. She holds it for the 12 seconds of the race, whispering a small prayer as Alia crosses each barrier.
There are no more garbage cans. Just regulatory sized hurdles. That doesn’t mean Alicia’s nerves, fears and anxiety — all “in a pot of gumbo” of emotion — have faded. But as Alia’s hurdling skills have developed over the past seven years, so too has her mother’s confidence.
“She’s not finished yet,” Alicia said. “That 12.33 was nice, but there is more to come. And I felt that deeply, deeply, deeply in my mind. There is more to come.