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Photograph: TRACK STAR: Morrisania athlete Desiree McQueen cools down after running the hurdles. Photo Credit: Wanda Benvenutti.

Bronx burner clears all the right hurdles

By Tara Dooley, Staff Reporter

When Desiree McQueen grabbed the baton for the final lap of the girls 800-meter relay at the Chase Manhattan Mayor's Trophy meet, her competition was way ahead.

But McQueen barrelled down the track after the Jamaica High School runner, motored past her on the backstretch and won with a substantial lead.

"The feeling you get is just, `I can get her; I'm going after her; I'm gonna get her,'" said McQueen.

The relay was one of the most spectacular events at the revival of the Mayor's Trophy meet -- a city track tradition that returned to the Washington Heights Armory Track and Field Center March 4 after an almost 20-year absence.

But it was not the only contribution McQueen, a Morrisania resident, made to her team's victory. She also scored points for A. Philip Randolph, the Manhattan high school she attends, when she aced the 55-meter hurdles in 8.10 seconds.

And this 16-year-old high school junior hopes to run the hurdles, her specialty, out of the city, on to college and all the way to the Olympics.

"It would not surprise me for Desiree by the time she is a junior in college to be the NCAA champ," said Robert Taylor, her coach since she started running 10 years ago. He also would not be surprised if she became a world-class athlete, he said.

In the fifth grade, McQueen's speed in the relay races at a school field day stunned her gym teacher. The teacher hooked her up with Taylor, coach of the Zodiacs, a girls track team based in Co-op City.

"Desiree showed a lot of potential right away," Taylor said. "She was very, very fast and caught on to a lot of the things we would do."

After joining the team that May, McQueen was ready for national competition by July, he said. Three years ago, he taught her how to run hurdles.

"I saw the hurdles were something I could be good at," McQueen said. "I started to be more focused and train harder."

Last July, she set a national record for her age group in the 100-meter outdoor hurdles at the East Coast Invitational in Fairfax, Va., said Taylor. She ran 13.72.

According to Taylor, McQueen has intelligence, speed, strength and concentration -- qualities essential for a good hurdler.

The track is not the only place McQueen exercises her intelligence. She has an 89 grade-point average and takes math, French and English honors classes, she said. Her favorite subject is math.

So far, McQueen has received more than 75 letters from college recruiters. She won't say where she wants to go, but she wants it to be somewhere warm.

"The way she's going now, it looks like she could get a full sholarship," said McQueen's mother Thelma McPherson, who said she attends all her daughter's city meets. "At least I hope so."

Since McQueen began running, Taylor has watched her develop the confidence needed to take off after an opponent with a lead, he said.

"She can really rise to the occasion," he said. "When the pressure is on Desiree usually comes through."

The Bronx Beat, March 13, 1995