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Canyon's Taylor Thomas: Hurdle big when it counts

Senior is ending her high school career by realizing her dreams

Posted: May 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Canyon High track and field athlete Taylor Thomas finished every single hurdles race in her Foothill League career in first place. She won a CIF-SS Division II 100 hurdles title last Saturday.

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There’s an old saying that means quite a bit to Canyon senior Taylor Thomas.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she says.

That is to say, everything that happens to you turns you into the person you are. In Thomas’ case, that person is a CIF-Southern Section champion hurdler, having run a Foothill League record time of 14.18 second at the Division II finals this past weekend.

“Taylor did what Taylor does,” says Canyon assistant coach Dave DeLong. “Run big when it counts.”

Thomas enters this weekend’s CIF-Southern Section Masters Meet armed with a sturdy, veteran confidence — and a sense of comfort with how her high school career has turned out.

“Coming in as a freshman, I did not expect any of this at all,” Thomas says.

She arrived at Canyon having participated in youth track and field for almost a decade, spending the latter three years hurdling. Thomas was an instant star as a freshman, with her flowing hair and high socks calling to mind one of her idols, Florence Griffith-Joyner.

Thomas won every varsity 100- and 300-meter hurdles race during her freshman Foothill League season. As it turned out, she wouldn’t lose a single league hurdles race in her four-year career.

She would, however, lose a lot of her desire in the races she runs so well.

Thomas finished fifth at the CIF-Southern Section Division II finals in both hurdles events as a sophomore, and she finished third in each race as a junior. Her finals time of 14.73 seconds in the 100 hurdles last spring qualified her for the Masters Meet, just one week shy of state.

Then, she hit one of the hurdles.

Not literally, mind you, but figuratively. Her time at the Masters Meet dropped almost two tenths of a second to 14.9, and she finished dead last.

It was symptomatic of a bigger problem — her times all season had been slower than her sophomore year. Off the track, Thomas was going through the same growing pains and personal change that befall every high school student.

“I thought I hit my plateau,” Thomas says. “The Masters Meet destroyed my hunger to run track. I thought I was done.”

Thomas gradually regained that hunger, but it took changes. She had spent years traveling as far as Culver City and Pasadena to train with personal hurdles coaches and other athletes who had the same commitment level off the track.

Eventually, all the miles and hours became too much.

“I didn’t want to have to travel all the way to Culver City to practice,” she says. “I wanted to practice at school.”

So she enlisted DeLong to coach her at the beginning of this season. DeLong stepped down as one of the co-head coaches of Canyon High track and field last season, but he’s continued to coach part time.

“I felt she had a good shot at being a CIF champion,” DeLong says. “I talked to her in January, and I asked her what she thought about it. But I said, ‘I only want you to do this if you’re serious about being a CIF champion.’”

Although DeLong has helped steer Canyon’s cross country and distance-running programs to great heights, he’s also spent an extensive amount of time coaching hurdlers in his career.

When he agreed to coach Thomas, he wasn’t messing around. Fortunately, neither was Thomas.

“She’d have moody days in the past, when she’d do only half the workout,” DeLong says. “This season, she gave me Saturdays early in the morning. From January to now, she only had two of those moody days, and she still worked through them.

“She held up her end of the bargain.”

In Thomas’ eyes, everything happened for a reason. She committed to the coach who had committed to her and took extra steps to refine her technique.

“Half the practice, I’m just doing drills practicing quickness over the hurdles,” Thomas says. “I’m also watching tapes from practice and track meets. I was able to look at mistakes I made, and I knew what I needed to change.”

Her changes coincided with Canyon’s rise as a team. With Thomas’ help in both the hurdles and sprints, the Cowboys ended Saugus’ six-year run atop the Foothill League and finished 5-0 in league dual meets.

Along the way, she committed to NCAA Division I Wichita State in late March.

“It’s similar to Santa Clarita,” Thomas says. “It’s not a busy city, but you can drive 40 minutes and be in the city. It’s more of a hometown feel. They had a lot of track athletes on the walls in the restaurants. You’re kind of like a town hero, in a way.”

Another big incentive was the money the Shockers would give her, a financial plan that’s laid out, conveniently enough, like a sequence of hurdles.

Her scholarship originally covered 75 percent of the costs. Because she hit 14.18 seconds at the Southern Section finals, that number jumped to 85 percent.

The remaining percentage would be made up if Thomas hits 13.9 seconds. That’s a lofty yet realistic goal for Thomas at Friday’s Masters Meet.

Since the dual meet season ended, Thomas has been able to train even more. At league finals, she won the 100 hurdles in 14.73 seconds — half a second faster than her junior year. She won the 300 hurdles in 44.95 seconds — exactly a second faster than her junior year.

Now she’s poised to reach the state meet for the first time. As a wide-eyed freshman, Thomas might have thought she’d be in Clovis more regularly.

She thought a lot of things back then. Only recently has she realized that the destination isn’t as important as the journey, that the hurdles cleared along the way are what mean the most.

“There’s an old saying, ‘You know you’re getting old when your memories mean more than your dreams,’” DeLong says. “I thanked her the other day, because that’s what it’s all about.”

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