Tammy Etienne found track and field success at the University of Texas and ran with the best athletes in the world.
She said the foundation for that success was set during her days at Portage Area High School.
“When I look back at it, that work ethic is what gave me the desire to work hard, what gave me guts, and what gave me stick-to-it-iveness,” Etienne told The Tribune-Democrat prior to entering the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Etienne grew up in Cassandra, along Route 53 between Portage and Lilly.
She graduated from Portage Area High School in 1977.
As a Mustang, Etienne took second in the 80-yard high hurdles in 1976, then captured the 110-yard hurdles in 1977 at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championships, PIAA records show.
Those accomplishments helped her secure a scholarship to Texas, a Division I national powerhouse program, and later compete for the U.S. Olympic Team.
“Portage did not have a girls track team until I was in ninth grade, and I knew that I was fast compared to the other kids on the playground,” Etienne said. “I remember going to the first meeting. (Coach) Vic Campagna said that
I would run the 100, the 200, and on some relay teams. I told him that I wanted to run the hurdles.”
When she was a junior at Portage, Etienne received a call from Robert Vaughn, coach of the Metro Plex Striders in Dallas, Texas. He urged her to consider taking her talents southwest.
“I was not even thinking about college,” Etienne said. “He contacted all of the (colleges) in Texas and even (the University of) Tennessee for me. Penn State was giving me just a half scholarship, so I went to Texas on a full scholarship.”
By the time she was a senior in college, Etienne was the No. 1 hurdler in the nation. She set Texas school records in the 400- and 100-meter hurdles, and was part of a record-setting 1600-relay team. An All-American, Etienne was the captain of the track team for two seasons.
Early in her col- lege career, Etienne was “like a deer in the headlights,” she said.
“I just looked and observed. Then my junior year, I got second at nationals. Then I knew that I could compete.”
In 1980, during her junior year of college, Etienne was a contend- er for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. She finished fourth in the Olympic trials and fifth in the U.S. National Meet.
The 1980 Olympics were held in Moscow, Russia, and President Jimmy Carter declared that U.S. athletes would boycott to oppose the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
“I was still really young then, and (the United States) eventu- ally boycotted the Olympics that year,” Etienne said. “The 400 meters was not an Olympic event yet, so it would have been an exhibition event and then would start as an Olympic event in 1984.”
Turned out that was her only shot at competing in the Olympics.
In 1983, Etienne suffered a torn plantar fascia in her foot that required surgery and cost her that entire season.
“I still did not give up,” she said, “and I trained in New Zealand, but by February (of 1984), I realized that there was no way that I would be ready for the Olympic trials.”
Etienne is the daughter of Harry and Doris Etienne of Cassandra, and the mother of three sons: Ryan Edwards, Samuel Malone and Luke Malone.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Texas and taught for 22 years. She later worked in pharmaceutical sales.
As of 2010, Etienne continued to run competitively.
“I came from a town of 230 people and then went to Texas, so those (experiences) really helped me,” she said. “I learned that internal drive from the environment that I grew up in.”