By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Had Sydney McWhorter been a year older, she probably would have qualified for this past season’s high school track and cross country region meets.
Unfortunately, the South Middle runner was just in sixth grade. You have to at least be in seventh grade to participate in the region. And you can tell by the expression on her face that she was bummed to not be able to represent her school at region.
“This year I will be able to,” McWhorter, who will be entering the seventh grade when the new school year starts, said.
While she might not have been allowed to race in the high school regions, which also meant she couldn’t compete at state, she still turned in an impressive first season of running. She finished 12th in the KTCCCA Middle School cross country championships and sixth in the KTCCCA Middle School track and field championships in the 800 meters. Plus, she is currently ranked No. 1 in the Kentucky Outdoor 800 meter rankings for middle school runners with a best time of 2:33. That time also ranks her 10th in the United States Outdoor 800 meters for middle school runners. Both rankings are generated by Milesplit.us, the premier high school track and field/cross country website.
When McWhorter was in fifth grade, she was entered in the county elementary track and field meet by her gym teacher, Lonnie Harris. Her time of 1:15 for 400 meters caught the eye of South Laurel track and cross country coach Carrie Kirby, who got in touch with her over the summer and asked her to come out first for the cross country team.
“I just love her,” McWhorter said of Kirby.
From there, she joined the track team, where she consistently finished in the top 10 throughout the season.
“I like to run,” McWhorter said. “I like to win.”
McWhorter comes from an athletic background, as her older siblings both were star athletes at South Laurel. Her sister, McKenzie, participated in basketball, soccer and track, and her brother, Chase, played both baseball and football for the Cardinals. Her mother, Tricia, participated in track while in high school at Clay County. Having two older siblings who excelled in sports has been a motivation for McWhorter.
“They pushed me to over achieve and try to be better than them,” McWhorter said. “I’d like to say I’m better than them.”
On South Laurel track T-shirts this season, the quote “Run Now, Rest Later” is printed on the front with the quote attributed to McWhorter. “Coach Kirby liked it and put it on the shirts,” McWhorter said.
While she might have been shut out of the high school postseason meets, she was able to participate in the recent middle school championships at the University of Louisville. She started in 13th place, but by the end of the race, she moved up to sixth. She knew only the top eight finishers would medal.
“I wanted a medal,” McWhorter said. “I’m really proud of this one.”
She will also compete at this year’s Bluegrass State Games and the Louisville Future Stars meet. Plus she will attend a track and field camp, Maximum Velocity, at Centre College. Jackie Joyner-Kersey and other Olympians are the trainers at that camp.
While she exclusively runs the 800 and 1600, she wants to try the high jump, which was the event her mother excelled in. Her time of 2:33 for the 800 is just one second off being ranked nationally as elite. A runner has to run 2:32 to achieved that ranking. In her first year of running, she knocked about 40 seconds off her 800 meter time.
“I want to be elite,” McWhorter said. “My goal for next year is 2:25. That’s the all-time record from Laurel County. I want to try and set the record.” She already owns most of the middle school records at South Middle.
Her idol is the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, who is considered the fastest woman of all time based on the fact that the world records she set in 1988 in both the 100 and 200 meters still stand and have yet to be seriously challenged. She won three gold medals and two silver medals in the Olympics and tragically died in her sleep as the result of an epileptic seizure in 1998 at the age of 38.
“I want to be like her,” McWhorter said. “I want to run in college, the Olympics and be a professional runner.”
She likes cross country and track equally, saying that a lot of the same people, friends and competitors, compete in both. And the fact that Kirby coaches both sports at South Laurel. “It’s perfect,” McWhorter said. She also likes to run in less than favorable conditions.
“I like to run in the rain and when it’s really cold so you can see your breath,” McWhorter said.
When she’s not running, she is swimming, either for South Laurel or one of the local swim clubs during the summer. She said between the two, she likes running better.
“I’ve made so many friends running,” McWhorter said.
She wears a watch when she runs, as her coaches set certain times for splits in the events. But she said she only looks at her watch once, at the 200 meter mark.
“At then I know that I got my time I was shooting for so I start running for placing,” McWhorter said. “In high school I race against time, not opponents.” Her goal for the upcoming season is to cut her state placing in half, to finish third in track and sixth in cross country. She’s either swimming or running every day of the week except for Sundays. She said she prefers running and swimming over team sports for one particular reason. In those races, the best times win, so you know where you stand against your opponents.
“Times tell,” McWhorter said.
Hmm, sounds like South Laurel might have a new quote for its next T-shirt.