Last spring, Eriana Henderson was gearing up for her final season with the Colorado track team and looking forward to the next chapter in her life.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced her to shift gears, but the senior has made the most of her extra year of college and is looking forward to a banner finish. On Friday, Henderson and her track and field teammates at CU will begin the three-day Pac-12 championships in Los Angeles.
One of the best 400-meter hurdlers in the Pac-12, Henderson is aiming for a top-three finish, while also hoping to help the Buffs to succeed in the 400-meter relay and 1,600-meter relay.
“I’m feeling like I’m about to run fast this weekend,” Henderson said.
Despite a strong dislike for the 400 hurdles when she started college, Henderson is one of the best in CU history and has three sixth-place finishes in that event at the Pac-12 championships.
“Coming into college, I did not like that race at all,” she said. “I think me getting good at it has grown me to love it.”
This week, she’s aiming for a top-three finish.
“That has been my whole goal this season,” she said. “I’m striving to get on the podium. I’ve been working really hard.”
With a fourth trip to the NCAA prelims on the horizon, Henderson is also taking aim at Gabby Scott’s school record of 56.04 seconds. Henderson ran a personal best of 57.67 in 2019 and has been preparing to peak down the stretch this year.
“I wasn’t running this fast this early (in previous years),” she said. “I’ve been measuring myself up to (Scott) and just knowing that the record is attainable and she tells me that all the time.”
During her career, Henderson also had five top-six finishes in relays at the Pac-12 championships and she’s one of only four women in CU history to surpass 20 feet in the long jump — an event she hasn’t done since 2018.
More impressive than Henderson’s success on the track has been her development as a student and young adult. She has focused on using her voice as a leader and a proponent for equality.
“My whole life I’ve been an athlete, and knowing that I have a voice and to speak up and do more has really come to me when I got to college,” she said.
“I think that our program and our athletic director (Rick George) really allow us the voice to be able to speak out on issues. His door is always open for us to come and talk. College is all about finding your identity and who you want to be outside of college and what you want to do after athletics is over.”
A two-time recipient — including this year — of CU’s Byron White Leadership and Initiative Award, Henderson has used her voice during her time at CU.
Along with former football player Nick Fisher, Henderson attended the Black Student- Athlete Summit in Austin, Texas, in 2018. That led to Fisher and Henderson coming to George with an idea for an open forum between the AD and the student-athletes. They called it “Rockin’ with Rick” and it’s still on the monthly calendar.
Henderson was also invited to the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity at the University of Oklahoma and has been active in CUnited, a social justice task force formed last year at CU.
“She’s been incredibly active and I think she has just run the gamut of all the different things that we have available in our department,” George said. “She’s utilized those and she’s actually helped structure programmatic things that we need, as well, so she’s been great. She’s a special lady.”
As she prepares to leave CU, Henderson is pleased to know that George and CU have made social justice and inclusion a priority.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “You feel like you work on something, you don’t see change and you don’t see change and then you finally start to see all this change happening.”
CU recently hired DaWon Baker as associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion. Henderson has her sights set on finding a similar job in college athletics.
“She’s going to be terrific at it,” George said. “She’s passionate about it and it’s important to her. She’s got things on her mind, she’ll share them with you, and she doesn’t sugarcoat things. She’s got a spirit about her and she’s awesome.”
Henderson, who is working on her Master’s degree, has been awesome on the track and is hoping for an exceptional performance this weekend. She’s also excited about her future.
“I’m more than just an athlete,” she said. “I have a voice and life doesn’t revolve around track.”