Latanya Sheffield jumps over a hurdle in 1987.
The night before Olympian and San Diego State University alumna LaTanya Sheffield was set to run in the 1985 NCAA outdoor track and field championships, her brother Rahn, who was also her coach, pulled her aside to tell her that the following day she was going to break the American record in the 400-meter hurdles.
“I didn’t hear anything else that he had to say because I was stuck on, ‘tomorrow you’re going to break the American record,’” Sheffield said. “The trust, the training, all of that led up to me being confident that what he was saying could be possible.”
Sure enough, Rahn was right.
Sheffield broke the American women’s 400-meter hurdles record and was crowned NCAA champion.
A walk on for the Aztecs who never saw herself as extraordinary coming out of high school went on to be a two-time All-American before competing in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games Seoul 1988.
“My very first 400 hurdle race I won it, and anytime you have result like that you fall in love very quickly,” she said.
Sheffield, now in her eighth year on the Long Beach State University track and field coaching staff, is preparing to serve as assistant for the U.S. Olympic Track & Field team in Tokyo. She hopes to use her own Olympic experience to guide the athletes she works with every day.
“The day to day journey, the mental focus, the commitment to excellence, the lifestyle that you must lead in order to reach such high goals is certainly huge,” she said. “To have that type of experience personally and to understand what it feels like to stand on a podium and go, ‘yeah, I literally accomplished what I sought out to do,’ is so huge; that experience lends to me as a coach.”
Sheffield has seen success during her time with Long Beach State.
Since her time leading the sprints, relays and hurdles, the Long Beach State has claimed a conference championship six times, including the program's first-ever women's conference championship in 2018.
“The NCAA track and field system is an awesome pool for those leading up to the Olympic Games,” she said. “Our national governing body has identified the strength of the collegiate athlete and their contribution to our Olympic teams. The strength of the NCAA athlete is something we cannot dismiss, and we must support that entity as best as we possibly can.”
She made history last summer when she was named the first women's track and field head coach in Long Beach State’s history.
“Our field is male dominated – and it is white male dominated, so that yields and lends to support and expansion and progressiveness and adding perspective and putting a seat at the table for decision making on multiple levels,” she said. “I was humbled and even that much more confident in our department.”
Sheffield also coached Team USA athletes as the sprints and hurdles assistant coach on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team and most recently was the head coach of the women’s track and field team at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Despite her impressive coaching resume, Sheffield never intended on getting into coaching. She was enjoying a career as a motivational speaker and her work as founder and president of Sports Extravaganza, Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on fighting childhood obesity.
That was until both of her daughters picked up track and field at a young age – and the family coaching tree that once started with her and her bother Rahn, had no choice but to keep going.
“Those little critters had the nerve to have some athletic talent,” she said.
Both of Sheffield's daughters, Kala Stepter and Jaide Stepter competed in track and field. Jaide is a nine-time All-American at the University of Southern California and is a Tokyo hopeful – currently being coached by Sheffield.
“We’re keeping it in the family again and we’re going to go for it,” Sheffield said. “I've told her time and time again I've punched my ticket, but it's up to you to get yours.”