For a couple of Ashtabula County families, a trip down to North Carolina wasn’t exactly on the agenda for this summer.
But with the way the young ladies ran in AAU Junior Olympic competition, a voyage to the Tarheel state became a necessity.
Marlee Beacom, a fifth grader at St. John, and Iris Gifford, a sixth grader at Jefferson Elementary, both competed in the 1500-meter run during the Junior Olympic National Track Championships at North Carolina A&T State University’s Irvin Belk Stadium in Greensboro recently.
Beacom ran a personal best time of 5:58.25, shattering her previous best time by five seconds. She also competed in the 800 and had another PR, finishing at 2:46.97.
Gifford ran the 1500 in a time of 7:26.8.
The times, however, don’t tell the story of what it was like for either young athlete to compete against the best runners from all across the country with thousands looking on.
“It was a little bit nerve wracking at first,” Gifford said.
Nerves, however, didn’t stand in the way of the sense of pride she felt in making it to nationals.
“I really don’t know how I got here,” Gifford said. “I guess it was just a lot of practice. I was a kind of a little bit excited because it was only my first year of running and I got to go to North Carolina and compete in the Junior Olympics, which was pretty cool.”
It was also pretty cool for Beacom, who like Gifford, took up running about a year ago, joining her father, Jamie Beacom on daily jogs.
For her, the greatest tension was the journey getting to nationals, especially the time between finishing the race and awaiting the results.
Competing at the regional meet in Columbus, she actually thought she’d come up one placement short of moving on.
“I didn’t think I made it,” Beacom said. “I got in front of these two girls in the last 200 (meters) and they came up behind me and passed me. So, I thought I came in seventh (the top six qualify) and didn’t make it.”
But walking back, dealing with thoughts of disappointment, she saw her father looking at the results on his phone.
“He saw that I came in sixth,” Beacom said. “It felt really good.”
The tension followed her to nationals, but once the race started, she said it eased up.
“The start of the race is the most nerve racking,” Beacom said. “But, then once you start, you just kind of let your legs go and it’s fine.”
For their parents,
just getting to see their children compete on that type of stage was what mattered the most.
“It was a great experience,” Pam Gifford said. “It was nice to see her (Iris) achieve her goals. She was trying to knock off a little time off. She’s still a little inconsistent here and there, but again, it’s only her first year and she’s doing great.”
Jamie Beacom added, “I think it’s awesome. There were just so many people there. We have good attendance at the track now, maybe a hundred people. But, you’re talking about a couple of thousand there, it was just a great experience.”
Both girls plan on continuing to run with the Ashtabula County youth running program and looking forward to running for their junior high and high school programs in the future.