Family remains White’s biggest fans

Allison Younge

As Gophers track and field sophomore Yvette White warmed up on April 19 for the 400-meter hurdles race at the Penn Relays (Pittsburgh), she instantly located her sister Nikki among thousands of fans.
“She makes this certain bird call, and when I hear it, I know exactly where she is,” White said. “I heard it, and I looked up, and there was my family.”
After hearing the familiar kkaicucukkkai call, White went on to clock a 60.03 in the 400 hurdles — her fastest time this season. White recognizes her family as her biggest fans and depends on them for support and encouragement.
“My family is so supportive of me,” White said. “They’ll go all over the country to watch me compete.”
Nikki and White’s parents last year drove from their home in Washington, D.C., to Minnesota, watched Yvette compete in three races and left for home two hours later. This unending dedication that’s a trait of the White family is clearly evident in the Gophers’ young hurdler.
“When it’s her time to race, she gets into a zone,” Gophers assistant coach Jahan Culbreath said. “It’s track time, it’s time to run, and she just focuses on that.”
White’s introduction to running hurdles wasn’t exactly intentional. She participated in cheerleading and track in elementary school, but her interest in hurdles was sparked when she was a freshman at Woodrow Wilson High School.
“One day at practice, my friend and I were just playing around. We told our coach that we could do the hurdles, and he let us go,” White said. “Ever since then I’ve been running hurdles.”
White’s goal in track has always been simple: to run faster every day. She competes with herself, always looking to beat her existing personal best by clocking a better time.
“I don’t care,” White said. “I can go on the track and get beat, but if my times are coming down, what more could I ask for?”
Currently, White holds the Gophers all-time best performance in the 100 hurdles. Last year at the Big Ten championships she clocked a 14.06 to finish fifth at Big Tens and earn the No. 1 spot in Gophers history. White also holds the No. 2 position in her favorite race — the 400 hurdles.
“I love that race,” White said. “People ask me why I like it. I just say, ‘I don’t know, I must be crazy.'”
White is sincere when she speaks of her love for running, but admits that sometimes Culbreath’s specially designed hurdle practices can wear her out.
“There is this one practice that I do, and it’s so hard that when I’m done, I’m done for the day — scrape me off the track.”
Throughout her track career, White has shown steady improvement in the hurdles. Culbreath believes that White’s greatest track achievements are still pending.
“The hurdles are a rhythm race,” Culbreath said. “You need to master the rhythm in between hurdles or you’ll lose time with stutter steps. Yvette is learning how to master the rhythm.”
Her calm and cool personality combined with agility, speed and the ability to focus provide all of the tools necessary to compete among the best. White enters the Big Tens this weekend ranked fourth in the 400 hurdles and fifth in the 100 hurdles.
Her family, however, will not be in attendance at the Big Tens. And even though she won’t hear her sister’s bird call, White will receive encouragement from her Gophers teammates with another bird call.
“Apasha (Blocker) gave me the nickname ‘Tweety’ because of my skinny, bird legs,” White said. “Even Gary (Wilson, Gophers head coach) calls me that now.”