Olympic track star Sydney McLaughlin will have her entire New Jersey high school cheering - and praying - for her when she competes for a gold medal in Tokyo on Tuesday night.
Students and staff of Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains will join a crowd of supporters at a local tavern to watch the live broadcast of McLaughlin’s 400-meter hurdle race, scheduled to take place at 10:30 p.m. EST.
“The students are very excited and we’re all praying for her,” Sister Percylee Hart RSM, the school’s principal, told CNA in an Aug. 2 interview.
“And not that she wins, but that she does her best and that she doesn't get injured,” Hart added. “She has her whole life ahead of her and we just want her to be her best.”
McLaughlin, 21, of Dunellen, NJ, competed in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro while still in high school, finishing 17th. She enters Tuesday’s competition as the reigning world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles.
McLaughlin has been outspoken on her Instagram account about her faith in Jesus Christ. After breaking the world record on June 28, McLaughlin posted a photo of herself with the caption, “The face of a woman who is in awe of God.”
“The goal of my life is to glorify [God] in everything that I do, and to be more like him every single day when I wake up,” McLaughin said in a video she posted online earlier this year.
Hart told CNA that humility is one of McLaughlin’s most outstanding qualities. Even after she burst onto the international track and field scene, Hart said, she wanted to be treated like an ordinary student, not an Olympian.
“In addition to being faith-filled, if someone said, ‘Hi, Sydney,’ she would always take the time to say hello back,” Hart said.
McLaughlin and her family are not Catholic, yet they chose Union Catholic based on its mission, “which was compatible with their mission as a family,” Hart explained. McLaughlin graduated in 2017 and her three siblings have also attended the school.
Hart said McLaughlin is spreading “the good news of salvation” by being so open about her faith.
“She is such a role model for our families and the parents are just thrilled that they can hold her up as an example to their children,” Hart said. “The students who are here now want to be like her.”
Their pride and admiration will be on display Tuesday night at the Stage House Tavern in Mountainside for the latest in a series of spirited viewing parties held throughout McLaughlin’s Olympic run.
“Now we're going to a restaurant that can hold a large number of people,” Hart said.
“We'll be able to view together, and there's just something magical about that, that sense of community,” she added. “We could be sitting in our living rooms, but to gather as the UC community and shout out, ‘Go, Syd, go!’ is just awesome.”
Joseph Bukuras is a staff writer at the Catholic News Agency. Joe holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from The Catholic University of America. He has interned in the U.S. House of Representatives, on a U.S. Senate campaign, in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives, and at the Susan B. Anthony List. He is based out of the Boston area.
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