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Boys Winter Track: Riverhead’s Parker hurdles over obstacles

In one sense, Tyreek Parker looked like a natural to be a hurdler, with his athleticism and speed. In another sense, though, he was an unlikely hurdling candidate. His heart and soul, perhaps, wasn’t entirely sold on it when he first arrived on the Riverhead High School boys winter track team three years ago.

Back then, Parker thought of himself as a pure sprinter, albeit one who had never run track before. He was uneasy when a coach asked him about trying out the hurdles. Staring at a hurdle that was half his height, he wondered to himself, “How am I going to get over it?”

Parker has since cleared that hurdle and many more. So many, in fact, that he is the reigning Section XI large schools champion in the 55-meter hurdles and headed for his first state meet, indoors or outdoors.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” the 6-2 senior said during Monday’s practice.

In three years, Parker has made significant strides, going from being an uneasy newcomer to the hurdles to an athlete who has embraced the difficult event, which is as much about technique as speed and athleticism. He studies hurdling, watching some of the best hurdlers on YouTube.

“He’s been hitting his stride and he’s really become a student of this,” Riverhead’s hurdling coach, Steve Gevinski, said. “I think his junior year when he realized how good his potential could be, he really started to work on his technique and last year it was really all about experience. I knew that he would be good, but he needed to get some experience in his sophomore and junior years to become what he is now. Now he has a lot of experience. He’s made a few mistakes, but I think he’s learned from them.”

One memorable mistake came last month in the League I Championships at Suffolk County Community College’s Suffolk Federal Arena in Brentwood. Parker, the favorite to take first place in the 55 hurdles, was disqualified from the final for a false start — or at least an alleged false start. Video later showed that Parker actually may not have left the starting block early, according to Riverhead coach Sal Loverde.

Either way, though, Parker was out of that race. He wore a sickened look on his face before turning around and holding his hands to his head as he walked off the track.

“It was tough for me, but at the same time it gave me the sense of purpose to fight for what I had went there for,” he said. “… So at the [Section XI] large schools [championships], I really wanted it. So I had to redeem myself for that.”

And he did.

Parker flew in first in a career-best time of 7.55 seconds in that Feb. 1 race in Brentwood.

If Parker needs more motivation, he found it on that same track in the state qualifying meet Feb. 10. He came in second place in 7.66, behind Mount Sinai senior Justin Wei’s 7.44.

Those two will compete against each other at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships March 7 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island. Before that, though, they probably will see each other at the Long Island Elite Meet Saturday at St. Anthony’s High School. A top-six finish at the state meet would bring Parker All-State status.

Since the start of this season, Parker has been adjusting to a change that is not as simple as it may sound. He has had to essentially re-learn how to start out of the blocks, with his left foot in the blocks instead of his right foot. That way, Gevinski explained, Parker’s dominant right leg goes over the hurdles first as he takes three steps between each hurdle.

“Now you can’t even tell the difference,” Gevinski said. “It’s so natural and it’s great. He’s like a switch hitter now.”

Outdoors, Parker has run the 110 high hurdles as fast as 15.1. That time will go down, he said.

In the meantime, he has two large indoor meets ahead of him.

“There’s really no words to explain the feeling and accomplishment that I felt this season, so it’s definitely a [great] way to end my senior winter season,” he said. “So, I can’t wait to see how spring goes. It’s going to be a great adventure.”