GALLATIN, Tenn. — Mikaela Smith made remarkable time, blowing by her competition in her first ever race. Maybe the diaper had been slowing her down this whole time.
Still shy of her third birthday, the future track and field star turned a toddle into a dash as she covered a one-mile parent-assisted course quicker than peers three years her senior.
“At that point we kind of knew something was up because she was beating 5-year-olds,” remembered Keith Smith, Mikaela’s father and a former Olympic sprinter.
That was hardly the last time an overachieving Mikaela excelled against older or more experienced competition. After spending the past 13 years living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mikaela moved to the mainland last fall to run at Station Camp High School for her senior year in an attempt to find more consistent races, earn a college track scholarship and further follow in her parents’ footsteps of international competition.
Keith, a native of Trinidad who competed in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, met his wife, Mirielle, on the track. She had run for her native Netherlands. They married, moved to Michigan and had three children before relocating to St. Croix on the tiny island near Puerto Rico.
Last year Mirielle and Mikaela, who will graduate at just 16 because she skipped eighth grade, visited Middle Tennessee where a family friend had moved after years on the island. Now a faculty member at nearby Welch College, Stephen Beck and his family agreed to open their home to Mikaela if she wanted to come.
“I really wanted to move somewhere that I could have competition,” said the slender runner, whose speciality is the 800 meters. “I wanted to be able to become better. I want to be the best, but I need to work my way to being the best.”
Of course the move came with obstacles. A wild weather year meant too cold temperatures for Mikaela in Tennessee, and much worse for her family back in the Virgin Islands. Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean in back-to-back weeks, decimating the family’s home and leaving them stranded because of fallen trees.
“That was devastating,” she said. “For the first couple hours, you don’t even know if they’re OK. You just had to go on faith. You’re not able to help them.”