Simon Hayes, McKenzie Howie and Emma Kidd represent the full spectrum of high school track athletes, and all three are set to compete in the Olympics next week.
OK, not those Olympics. The flight for these athletes will stop for the National Junior Olympic Championships in Baltimore, not London, but the stakes are nonetheless high.
The three are among 14 from the Speed Track and Field club team and several others from around the city and state who will be participating in the massive nationwide meet that runs July 23-29 at Morgan State.
“I’ve heard lots about it,” said Kidd, who will be a senior at Cheyenne Mountain and is set to compete in the 400 meters after placing second in a regional in El Paso, Texas. “It’s a huge meet and I wanted to get big-meet experience and hopefully drop my times. I’ve heard that state looks little compared to this one.”
The Junior Olympics are a target, a chance to measure the progress made over the two months since the end of the high school season. They are also something of a melting pot for the sport in that they bring in the upper-echelon talent from all classes and those who recently graduated.
For example, Kidd is entering her final year in high school. Howie is coming off a successful freshman season at Doherty and Hayes has finished high school and is prepping to begin his track career at Western State.
Despite coming at it from different angles, all three view the Junior Olympics as more of a springboard than an end in and of itself.
“This is the very last thing I’ll do that will be considered high school,” said Hayes, a Pine Creek graduate. “So I’m going to go out and do the best I can.”
Hayes, who will compete in the triple jump and long jump, has a bit of unfinished business after a distracted performance at state, in which he competed just hours after learning his grandfather had suffered a stroke.
“I wasn’t feeling as motivated, I guess you could say,” Hayes said.
Motivation is no problem now. Hayes is paying for his spot on the club team out of his pocket from money he’s earned installing windows. He already has a college scholarship, but he’s seeking improvement.
Really, that’s the goal for everyone, and a big part of what club owner Charmas Lee preaches. A human performance specialist and motivational speaker by trade, Lee works with athletes on form and technique, but also on attacking the mental pitfalls that can lead to plateaus for athletes who spend much of the year on the same events.
“We do a lot of visualization,” said Lee, who has run the club for 24 years. “There’s also a lot of mental mastery training. What happens if it’s raining? What happens if the girl next to you bumps into you? We do a lot of that type of work.”
Howie, who will be a sophomore next year for the Spartans, competed last year in the National Junior Olympics before qualifying for 5A state (she took 13th in the prelims in the 300 hurdles). She won a state and regional title in the 400 hurdles to put her back in the Junior Olympics.
She runs track nine months out of the year and does weight training throughout, so this is serious business for her even at such a young age.
“Some people ask me why I do it,” Howie said. “No. 1, I love the sport. No. 2, to get me into college. I feel if I keep working like I do, I’ll have a chance at a college scholarship.”
First things first. Right now she has a chance at a national medal.