She was one among 7,000 athletes competing at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics July 26-31 in Wichita. But Tara Proffitt was the only competitor there who could call Hillsboro home.
As far as she knows, at least.
“It’s kind of weird being at such a big track because there’s so many people there,” she said. “You kind of get nervous.”
Battling those nerves, the best competition from across the country and triple-digit temperatures, Proffitt competed in two events at Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium: the 4×800 relay and the open 800.
A member of the Kansas Flyers Track Club, based in Minneapolis (Kan.), Proffitt ran the first leg of the 4×800. She and her three teammates finished with the ninth-fastest time among the 48 teams competing in the “Youth” division: 10 minutes, 32.88 seconds.
The times were compiled from four separate heats.
Competition at the Junior Olympics takes place in six two-year age divisions, with athletes generally falling between the ages of 8 and 18. In the Youth division, athletes were 13 and 14 years old.
The day after the relay, Proffitt, 14, finished 35th among 48 runners in the open 800 with a time of 2:36.94.
“It was not my best, but I tried as hard as I could,” she said. “The start went pretty well, and the ending was good.
“I just haven’t run (the 800) as many times as the other girls have. I wasn’t used to it and it got a little hard for me.”
The high temperatures may have affected her performance.
“I think it affected everyone a little bit,” she said. “We always practiced in the heat because we knew it would be hot in Wichita, so we’d be kind of ready for it. I think we did all right for how hot it was.”
Proffitt said she was impressed with way meet staff looked out for the athletes’ well-being during the meet.
“All the volunteers were helping trying to make sure you stay cool—dumping water on your head, or having a cold towel on your neck,” she said.
“And we always tried to drink more fluids.”
This is Proffitt’s first year with the Kansas Flyers. She was invited to join the team of around 40 youth at one of her middle school meets this spring.
“I got to go see one of the practices and watch what all they did—and then got to participate, which is really fun,” she said.
Two to three times a week this summer, Proffitt traveled to Minneapolis for workouts.
“It’s mainly warming up and stretching, and then doing a distance workout, which is usually two to four miles,” she said.
“Then we do intervals (speed work) of anywhere from 300 to 600 (meters).”
In addition, she accepted the coach’s challenge to run 20 to 25 miles each week at home.
The team’s first meet was in Kansas City, where Proffitt ran the 4×400 and the open 400. From there, it was the Missouri Valley regional meet in Lawrence, July 7-10, which was the qualifying event for nationals.
There, her 4×800 team placed third in 10:36.40 with Proffitt running the anchor leg. She also finished third in the 800 in 2:33.13. The top five finishers in each event qualified for Wichita.
Proffitt plans to participate in volleyball and basketball when she starts high school this fall. But she hopes to make an impact in track.
“As I go through high school, I want to break some records in the 800 and 400 and see if I can keep up with some of the older athletes that are going to be there,” she said.
So, how do her school friends feel about her devotion to the sometimes lonely world of running?
“My good friends encourage me to do well, and they’re proud of how well I actually do,” she said.
“Since it’s been such a big thing in my life, they think it’s annoying sometimes. They say there’s always people coming up to you talking about track.
“But they think it’s pretty cool that I did it.”