Olivia Smiarowska has had success on the track for years.
But since she arrived from New York, she’s been doing it on a different track.
Smiarowska is a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School, and since she moved to Bensalem prior to her freshman year, she hadn’t run competitively.
But she was very comfortable riding horses.
“When I was young, I was afraid to get on a horse, but I started riding after my dad forced me to get on one,” Smiarowska said. “I was really scared at first, but ever since then, I fell in love with riding. I’ve been doing it for eight years now, I started during elementary school and kept it up during my middle school years. When I got to high school, I still rode horses, but I wanted to get in shape so I started running.”
Smiarowska had an inkling she’d be a good runner. During her younger days, she would play tag with her friends and was always the fastest of the group.
Sadly, her track career didn’t get off to the fastest start, and it had nothing to do with her running ability.
“I have been doing track for I guess two and a half years, I would have done more but we lost a lot of time because of COVID,” Smiarowska said. “I ran freshman year, during indoors, but everything was canceled during the spring. Then my sophomore year, we didn’t run at all because of COVID, but I joined again my junior and senior year.”
It was worth the wait.
Led by Smiarowska, the Ragdolls have been collecting championships this year. They won the indoor Catholic League championship, then followed that up by doing the same in the outdoor season. Last week they upped the ante, winning the District 12 championship, besting all the teams in the Catholic and Public leagues.
In the winter, Smiarowska finished first in the 60-meter hurdles and took second in the 60-meter dash and 200-meter race.
At the District 12 meet, she placed third in the triple jump and the 100-meter hurdles, and won gold medals in the 300 hurdles and the 4×100-meter relay.
She also won two golds at the All-Catholic meet, which featured Ryan freshman Amirah Nesmith establishing a meet record in the 100-meter dash, and won three individual events.
For Smiarowska, she was happy to pick up the medals, but the real wins were the ones she shared with her teammates, the overall team titles.
“Oh, winning the team titles is the best part of this year,” said Smiarowska, who will still represent the Ragdolls in the state competition and after that, nationals at the University of Pennsylvania. “I love representing Ryan, I just love the team, we’re all so close and they mean a lot to me. I feel like they helped me grow as a person, and they’re so welcoming.
“I moved here before high school, and when I started at Ryan, everyone was so welcoming. I made so many friends. Then I went out for track, and I met all of my teammates. I didn’t know anyone, but we became friends right away.”
Smiarowska certainly helped the Ragdolls track team, but she credits the sport as well as her coach Roger Munsey with helping her grow as a person.
“Track has had an essential impact on me as a person,” Smiarowska said. “Not only did it give me personal goals to work for and follow, it allowed me to grow socially, physically and mentally where I struggled with before. Whereas horseback riding is a more individual sport, track is more team-based and I think stepping out of my comfort zone and getting to know more of the team this year really changed me for the better.”
She’s now preparing for life after Ryan, which will include running and animals.
“I want to do pre-vet,” Smiarowska said. “I always grew up with animals and I always loved animals, so I thought it would be a good career. I like all animals. I have chickens, a cat, a dog, my dad owns pigeons. I love all of them. And helping them and making them feel better would be a great job, I think.”
She’s already proven to be a great caretaker.
Shortly after moving to Bensalem, she bought a horse that she rides on her friend’s barn. The horse was sick and needed to be nursed back to health. Smiarowska got him healthy and back on his feet.
“He turned 7 this year, I just sold him because I’m going to college, but he’s still at the farm so I can still see him,” she said. “He was good, a retired race horse, I retrained him to do jumps and stuff. When I first got him, he was severely underweight. We gave him antibiotics and took care of him. He’s doing great now.”
Just like his former owner, who is really excited about finishing her career on the Ryan track team on a good note.
“All the friends, we have so many good memories, I’ll be sad to be leaving all my friends,” she said. “I’ve made so many great friends here, and we’ve had so much fun.
“My coach Roger has also played a large role in where I am at today; he has helped me when I got stuck in my own head and dealing with injuries. … Coach Roger has sacrificed a lot for the team, coaching practices everyday, going to longs meets with us, taking us to invitationals, all while having a job and taking care of a family.
“I will always appreciate everything he has done for the team and I, and I will most definitely work to give him a real reason to be proud of me one day.”