Gianna Taylor is just starting to feel like her old self again.

The recent graduate of Redwood Elementary School is getting over some ill-timed illnesses that have slowed her down some through the end of her middle school track career this spring and into
the summer.

Although Taylor still managed to have a spectacular season with loads of first place finishes and a new 8th grade girls Del Norte County record in the 200 meter dash at 26.90 seconds, her times were still a hair behind what she was able to accomplish in the previous year. In 2018 Taylor set the 7th grade girls 200 meter dash county record with a time of 26.63. She also set the 7th grade 100 meter dash record with a time of 12.78 — faster than the current 8th grade county record of 13.0 which has stood since 1980.

“I think that during the year her lack of conditioning due to illnesses kept her from the stamina, strength and endurance needed,” said one of Taylor’s coaches, Samuel Escobar. “But physically she is getting her strength back.”

Although the season has been over for a full month for the rest of the middle school track athletes in the county, Taylor never stopped working out. She was back in action over the weekend at the USA Track & Field Oregon State Championships at Newberg High School where she went on to place in the top five in the long jump (2nd), the 100 (third) and the 200 (5th) and qualified to move on to the USATF Region 13 competition for the fifth year in a row.

Taylor’s jump of 4.58 meters, or 15’0.25” was just 3.25 inches short of her personal record in the event, and nine inches short of the first place competitor. Escobar said that Taylor showed a lot more spring than even her second-place distance suggests, however.

“I was probably most impressed with her performance on the long jump where her first jump was maybe 15-1,” Escobar said. “After that she probably had three jumps that were over 16 feet. Unfortunately she was off the board by as much as maybe a foot.”

Escobar said for now the main focus for Taylor in the long jump is to learn to take off closer to the scratch line, rather than actually jumping farther.

“You have to be consistent about driving your knees, driving your arms, and stuff like that,” Escobar said. “She had four really good jumps though.”

In her two sprinting events, Taylor said she was a little bit nervous about how she would fare.

“I think I had some nerves at the beginning because I haven’t run in a big meet in a while. The MOC (Oregon Middle School Meet of Champions) is, but I was sick then,” Taylor said.

On the first day Taylor ended up having just enough to move on to both the finals and the Region 13 meet with an eighth place finish in the prelims of the 100 (13.55), and the 200 (27.96).

The next day Taylor said she felt less pressure, having already qualified to move on, and was able to prepare herself better for the races.

She responded by moving up the ranks in both of her finals appearances. She took third place in the 100 meter dash with a time of 13.39 and was one of just two runners in the finals to record a faster time than in the prelims. In the 200 Taylor’s time of 28.06 was 0.1 seconds slower, but she moved up to fifth place in the standings as again only two runners in the finals improved from the previous day.

“I am extremely pleased in the difference in her places between the first day and the second day,” Escobar said. “In the 100, even though she won her heat, she had the slowest time of the qualifiers. So she drew lane eight. The idea that she went from the eighth best time to the third best time in the finals is great. That is where the maturity and the experience comes in.”

Taylor just turned 14 years old, which Escobar said puts her right in the middle of the 13-14 age group she is competing with at the USATF meets. Many of the top competitors are on the verge of turning 15 years old. Still, Taylor has put in more work than even some of the older athletes.

“Some of the girls for Junior Olympics don’t train as hard as me,” Taylor said. “I sometimes train on the holidays, but not much. I have to miss a lot of things that most kids don’t. Sometimes it is fine and sometimes I don’t want to but I kind of have to. I am hoping to get a scholarship, so that is what I am working for.”

Taylor and Escobar are regulars at the Del Norte High School track, working on her speed and technique, and recently focusing on building her endurance back up following her illness. That type of dedication is rare according to Escobar, who is also an assistant coach and former head coach of the Del Norte High School track and field teams.

It isn’t that there is never anything else Taylor would rather be doing. There sometimes is.

It isn’t even that she never complains. She sometimes does.

It’s that she shows up to every practice anyway, and puts in the work.

Even on Wednesday — a cold, dreary and windy morning this week — Taylor was out running sets of 100 and 200 meters with Escobar. Taylor’s ankle had been bothering her during the workout, so she tried to talk Escobar into setting the goal for her last 200 meters at 34 seconds. He insisted on a target of 32 seconds, however, so Taylor wrapped up her roughly 90 minute workout with a 200 meter run in a time of 32.16.

“I like her maturity in terms of working out. She is improving, and she always shows up when we schedule practices,” he said. “I mean, not many other kids during their summer vacation are saying, ‘Lets go work out, lets go run track.’ Most kids are going to the river, or sleeping in. She shows up at 9 o’clock ready to go. That is pretty cool on her part. So I’m looking forward to continuing to coach her at the high school level. She definitely still has a lot of room for improvement, but not many kids are out here doing this. So kudos for her.”

Taylor said she is driven by her ultimate desire to earn a college scholarship for track, but she also just needs an outlet to burn off some extra energy.

“Summer is sometimes boring to me,” she said. “I have to stay fit because my parents say that I have too much energy at my house if I don’t work out. So I come out here, and if I’m not practicing track I play basketball at my house.”

So Taylor will continue to come back to the track to workout leading up to the USATF Region 13 meet July 4-7 in Tacoma, Washington. Based on her marks at the state meet, Taylor will be the No. 5 seed in the 100, the No. 8 seed in the 200, and the No. 7 seed in the long jump according to athletic.net.

Although the top five finishers at the regional meet automatically qualify to move on to the Junior Olympics, which will be held in Sacramento this year, Taylor said she isn’t sure if she wants to compete at the national event. Instead, she is hoping to set some new personal best marks for the first time in almost a year.

“I’m just trying to get PRs. I haven’t PRed in a while because I have been sick,” she said. “I’d like to jump 16 feet in the long jump, hopefully I can run a 12-something in the 100 because I haven’t done that in a while, and in the 200 maybe a 26-something.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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