Steeplechase. Photo courtesy of Encyclopedia of Sports.

Rhett Austin is a patient young man. The Lake Highlands High School freshman just returned from the prestigious Texas Relays, where he finished fourth out of 15 competitors in the steeplechase. Rhett enjoyed the experience, but he says he’s not finished. He’s got three more years to earn a gold medal.

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The steeplechase takes runners over 28 large, fixed barriers and seven water jumps. It’s different from regular hurdles, because the barriers are larger and span several lanes on the track. They don’t fall down when hit, like hurdles do, and one barrier is placed in front of a water jump.

Rhett says he was excited to compete at the Texas Relays, where 5,000 athletes and 50,000 spectators participate each year. As the only freshman running his race, he wasn’t anxious or nervous. He figured he had nothing to lose.

“Running the steeplechase is really fun, combining distance running with hurdling and jumping into water,” he told me. “Now that I’ve finished this meet and had this opportunity, I’m excited to see what I can do in the future throughout high school. Some of my goals next year would be to take off another ten seconds from my mile time.”

Rhett owes his achievement to good old fashioned hard work, but he came by his talent honestly. His mom, Karen Imhoof Austin, was a state champion gymnast at LHHS in 1987, and his dad, Matt Austin, played tight end and holder for Pro Bowl kicker Phil Dawson in the early 1990s. Sister, Kaitlyn, is a Wildcat Wrangler.

The steeplechase is unique — it’s not sponsored by the UIL, but it is an NCAA event. Texas Relays officials require Rhett’s LHHS coaches to document and submit his qualifying times, since the competition is by invitation only.

Rhett is already thinking about next year.

“I would like to win the steeplechase at Texas Relays next season and see some of my teammates compete in events, as well.”