Adversity fuels Peabody-Burns speedster

For most small-town girls, winning nine first-place medals at state in their first three years of high school would be more than enough motivation to keep running.

For Lauren Pickens, the standout sprinter from Peabody-Burns High School, the force that drives her is much more personal.

?When I was a freshman, I lost my best friend,? Pickens said. ?As a freshman at state, I was actually supposed to be at her funeral and her mother told me ?No,? not to be there.

?She told me that she?d be watching out for me and from that day forward I won the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters. I knew someone was watching me, and that it was her.?

Pickens grew up with Kylie Terronez, who was killed in a car accident three years ago this month.

?I had known her basically all my life,? Pickens said. ?She used to compete with me. She used to love to watch me run.

?Before she passed away, she used to tell me, ?I?ll be there to watch you.? She?d tell me every day. And then to find out, you know, that was hard.

?But I?couldn?t ask for anything better, for her to be there watching me at state.?

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Pickens? face softened with a smile as she recalled, ?One time I did look up at the sky and smile because I knew she was there with me. I always have her with me, always in my heart and everything, and I know she watches me run.?

Peabody-Burns track coach Brian Lightner said he knew many of the seniors had been thinking of Terronez as she would have graduated this year.

Pickens, who started running as a middle schooler, stands a good chance of repeating her success at state in her senior year, despite a hamstring injury she incurred at the KU Relays April 18-21.

?This year I?ve had a few ups and downs with some injuries, but I don?t let them get me down,? Pickens said.

Lightner, who is coaching her for the second year this season, reaffirmed her optimistic outlook.

?She?s really stepped up this year, learning how to work through her injuries,? said Lightner. ?She?s stayed pretty positive.

?It?s going to be different,? he added.

?She won?t be in quite the same shape that she has been in the past. She is such a tough competitor, though. I think she?ll be right where she wants to be. She?ll find a way to make it happen.

?I?ve learned, that year I coached her, give her a chance, get her on the track, and she?s going to make something special happen.?

Despite having the opportunity to add her name to high-school track greats by winning 12 state individual medals, dominating her three events during her high school career, Pickens said her first thought is of team goals.

?I?m excited to get out there, hopefully qualify the 4×100 girls? relay, to actually have one come out,? she said.

?I don?t think we?ve had one for a couple years. Not just for me to go to state, but to have someone else come with me, too.?

As far as individual accomplishments go, Pickens said she?d like to set the state record in the 200 since she finished just over that time last year.

But Pickens said the best part of competing is her fans.

?The high point of state was the fans cheering,? Pickens said. ?You have people from all over the state that I don?t even know, and they come up to you and say, ?Wow, I enjoy watching you, you?re pretty fast.??

Though Pickens has talent that sets her above the rest, her coach said her work ethic has played a big part in her success.

?She works so hard, and I?ve never seen anyone so driven when she?s actually running. You get her in a race and the determination she has is unmatched.?

Pickens will depend on that work ethic and focus when she competes for Wichita State University next season.

?When it comes track time, I?m 110 percent,? she said. ?You look in my eyes and know I?m here to race.?

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