Sydney McLaughlin wins gold and her Catholic high school goes wild
by Joe Bukuras
Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 17:01 pm
Students and staff at Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey cheered on Tuesday night as alumna sprinter Sydney McLaughlin broke her own world record at the Tokyo Olympics en route to a gold medal.
“The energy that filled the room when she crossed the finish line was electric,” the school’s English teacher Kathleen Sagendorf told CNA on Wednesday. “It just made you so proud to be a part of the UC community and to be an American.”
McLaughlin graduated Union Catholic in 2017, and her three siblings have also attended the school.
Members of the public joined the school community on Tuesday at a watch party for McLaughlin at a local tavern. They formed a crowd almost 1,000 strong, ecstatically screaming during the live broadcast of McLaughlin winning gold in the 400-meter hurdle race.
“It was a great big mix of students, alums, faculty, staff, parents of students, and members of the community,” Jim Lambert, the school’s information director, told CNA.
McLaughlin, 21, of Dunellen, New Jersey, competed in the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro while still in high school. She set the world record twice in her Tokyo performances: once during the Olympic trials, and again in her Aug. 3 gold medal run, with a time of 51.46 seconds.
McLaughlin is not Catholic, but has been outspoken on her social media account about her faith in Jesus Christ. After her first time breaking the world record on June 28, McLaughlin posted an instagram 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 an Instagram video she posted online earlier this year.
Sagendorf, who taught Sydney while she was a freshman and sophomore at the school, said McLaughlin was a great student and attested to her mental strength. “I always knew if it was the day before a big race in school because you could see she was mentally preparing,” she said.
McLaughlin’s Humanities teacher, Tim Breza, told CNA that watching his former student run for gold in the Olympics was “surreal.”
“I can remember doing something very similar for her in our gym when she was in Rio and even though she did not reach the final I think everyone knew this was only the beginning,” he said. “Fast forward to 2021, a much different world, but the same talented Syd fulfilled that Golden dream!”
Breza said that whether McLaughlin is wearing the jersey of her country or her school, she always represents herself, her family, her friends, and God with grace.
Lambert, previously a track and field reporter for the Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey, told CNA that he covered McLaughlin’s track career.
“I’ve known Sydney and her family for 10 years and have covered her track and field career since she was 13, so to watch her reach the pinnacle of her sport by winning the Olympic gold in electrifying, heart-pounding, and world record fashion was extremely exciting and gratifying,” he told CNA.
Lambert told CNA that watching McLaughlin win gold was the “greatest moment” of his professional career, “and a moment she has seemed destined for since she was a young prodigy.”
Sister Percylee Hart RSM, the school’s principal, told CNA in an Aug. 2 interview 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.
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 that McLaughlin is spreading “the good news of salvation” by being so open about her faith.