Fulton senior Kayanna Gaines has passed many competitors this year in her final track and field season and final high school athletic season.
Gaines will look to surpass some more today at the Class 4 state track and field championships at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City. She qualified for what will be her final high school athletic event after winning the 1,600-meter-run and placing second in the 800-meter-run Saturday at the Class 4 sectional meet in Camdenton.
After losing her last track and field season to the pandemic, Gaines said she felt she had to make up ground to try and accomplish her goals this season. She has stayed in athletic shape after competing in the 2020 cross country state championships last November, being named to the all-conference team in basketball for her senior season and did some more running to fill in for the lost track season. Gaines said she makes sure to work every day to maintain her performance in events.
"The biggest thing is making sure you put work in every day," Gaines said. "A lot of sports could take a day off, in cross country and track, long-distance-wise, you can't really take a day off or you're setting yourself a day back."
To help her prepare, Gaines said she has been working this week with the team long distance coach, and her coach all four years of high school, Jannelle Harrison. Gaines said Harrison has been "everything" to her the past four years and is "always there and wants to see the best out of you," answering any questions Gaines has during her preparation and running with Gaines when she is training.
To Gaines, though, she said maintaining a mindset is as important to her success as building up her endurance. Gaines said this helped her succeed in the sectional meet, achieving the results she knows for which she is capable.
"A lot of running and long distance is also mental," she said. "So, during the race, it's what you're telling yourself. If I know 'oh this girl is going to catch me' then they'll probably get you. But I would tell myself 'I can win this race.'"
Her head coach, Patrick Knipe, said her talent has obviously been valuable to the team, but her possession of confidence, perseverance and competitiveness, what he sums up as "grit, grind and want," makes her special and will give her a chance in the state meet.
"Those are the characteristics you want in a top athlete, any athlete," Knipe said. "When you don't have to coach that grit, grind and want, or build upon that, I think you really got somebody that's special."
Even before the first meet of the season, Knipe said the goal for Gaines is for her to finish in the top 8 so she can be on the podium this time around, a goal he said is "very realistic." Gaines qualified for the state meet back in 2019 in the 1,600, finishing in 12th place. He said she will be the No. 7 seed in the 1,600 and No. 14 seed in the 800.
Knipe said he is excited for his first trip to the state meet as the Fulton head coach, especially after the pandemic delaying his first year, and hopes Gaines qualifying this year will be the first of many consecutive years he will be able to take some Hornets to state.
"I couldn't ask for a better athlete there," he said. "I'm just really excited and am looking forward to see how she does out there. I think she is going to meet all the goals she set for herself and have a great experience."
Gaines said she, of course, does remember the first time she qualified her sophomore year and has been working hard this week with Harrison to come up with a better result her senior year. While it is more challenging to "put your all in" two races, Gaines said she has been instructed to "put all your focus in one" and trust she will have enough energy and drive for the race later.
"Put it all in as if it is going to be your last race ever, especially now because these are my last two races," Gaines said.
Today is sure to be an eventful one in Gaines' life, not only as she makes her final steps as a high school athlete but also as she makes her first steps as a high school graduate. Fulton High School is set to have its graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. today.
Gaines said she still intends to make the walk for her diploma even if she does show up late. She said she was given a pass from the principal to miss graduation practice this morning so she could prepare for the meet. As for if this will compete for Gaines' attention, she said she will be more focused.
"I've always been very competitive. Always growing up," she said. "My big goal is getting in all-state top 8. My plan is to fight for top 8 in the races and then I will think about enjoying graduation and relaxing later."