Airdrie athlete Sienna MacDonald will don Dino red next year, after committing to the University of Calgary's track and field team.
After two years of weighing her post-secondary options, the 17-year-old heptathlete opted to stay close to home for her university track career. According to MacDonald, the deciding factor was the opportunity to train under Dinos' coach Les Gramantik – a veteran coach with more than 45 years of experience.
“He’s really good and has trained a bunch of Olympic heptathletes and decathletes, so the coaching was an obvious decision,” she said.
“It’s also close to home, so I don’t have to be far away from my family and my support system.”
Gramantik – who has coached Olympians Damian Warner, Michael Smith and Jessica Zelinka – said he met MacDonald last year and is excited to see her progress as a combined event athlete. MacDonald has many qualities he looks for in recruits, he added.
“She has good abilities and good speed,” he said. “What I like about her is her relaxed approach to things – she’s not uptight. It’s easy to talk to her and work with her to do things.”
MacDonald said she was also drawn to U of C because the Dinos' track and field team is perennially competitive in the Canada West conference. Last year, the men’s team won gold at the Canada West indoor championships, while the women’s team placed second. The Dinos’ last national championship came in the 2012-13 season.
“They do have a good track program and some courses I was thinking of taking, so that’s a bonus,” MacDonald said, adding she intends to study either psychology or sociology.
A graduate of George McDougall High School (GMHS), MacDonald has been a dominant force in Alberta track and field since taking up the sport competitively two and a half years ago.
As a Grade 11 student, MacDonald broke the Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) record for points gained in the pentathlon while competing for the GMHS Mustangs in June 2019. She also placed first in the 80-metre (m) hurdles.
After earning more accolades throughout the outdoor club season with the Calgary Warriors Track Club, she capped off a stellar campaign with a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 2019 National Youth Track and Field championships. Nationally, MacDonald was ranked second in Canada in both the 100-m hurdles and the U18 women’s pentathlon in 2019.
MacDonald also shone during the 2019-20 indoor season. In February, she won the gold medal in the women’s 60-metre hurdles after setting a personal-best time of 8.7 seconds in the final at the 2020 Simplot Games in Idaho. The Simplot Games is one of the premier indoor high-school track and field meets in North America.
Esther Sieben, a combined events coach for the Warriors, said MacDonald has been a "standout" since taking up track competitively. Sieben added MacDonald will become "a huge asset" to the Dinos track team.
"She's very quick, runs a super-fast 200 m and is very aggressive over the hurdles," she said. "Her speed was always there, and we've just been working with her technically to get a little more agile and move a little quicker over the hurdles and the track surface."
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 outdoor track and field season, which meant MacDonald didn’t have the chance to defend her ASAA crown or go for gold at nationals.
Since then, her training opportunities have been limited, but she said she’s still working hard in preparation for joining the Dinos in the fall.
“I’m just getting a few runs in here and there,” she said. “My club track team does have a few practices every so often, and we just keep our distance.”
Gramantik said he could see MacDonald going “far” in track and field.
“I don’t like predicting how far is far, but she definitely possesses qualities I haven’t seen in recent times from hardly anybody,” he said. “It’s exciting.”
MacDonald is the second Airdrie athlete to join the Dinos’ track and field roster in the last two years, following in the footsteps of sprinter Princess Roberts.