(Editor's Note: As a look back at the 2010s decade, the Bulletin will be re-running stories about high school state championships in our area during that time. This story originally ran on July 3, 2016)
Martinsville’s girls track 4x100 meter relay team finished the spring season as state champions in their event, the first girls to win a state track championship in Martinsville High School history.
The track season started early for senior Tamara Estes, freshman Deja Brandon, juniors Shanique Martin, and Kayla Mitchell, and junior Geri White, an alternate on the relay. Martin and Mitchell were working all the way back in the fall when Martin said the duo would train with the Bulldogs’ football team.
Once the season rolled around, the five girls, as well as the rest of the Bulldogs’ track team, would spend practices running hills both forwards and backwards, lifting weights in the weight room, running sprints, stadiums and long distances, all as a means to build up muscle and endurance. Even on days when meets were cancelled due to rain, White said coaches Nate Hairston and Earl Dodson had the team outside practicing in sweatshirts that had ‘hard work and dedication’ written on them.
White said that not only were the practices good for the runners’ physical and mental endurance, but they also inspired other athletes at the school.
“One day during spring break he (Hairston) brought the football players out there because they were talking about how we don’t do anything or they just see us running around the track a couple of times … and I guess the guys challenged the girls and we won,” White said. “They gave up on like their fifth hill and we were on our 16th hill just going up and down… They think it’s unfair because they say ‘oh they’re smaller than us’ or this and that. But it actually motivated them to work even harder because the next day we saw them out there running hills and doing what we do. At first we thought they were trying to be funny or they were picking on us but they said ‘no, we’re trying to build endurance.’ So I thought that was really cool that we can have an impact on other sports even if we don’t play the same sports.”
Even through all the tough practices and long days, every girl on the team said she had something, or someone, to run for and a reason to keep run up each hill.
“I was doing it for my mom,” Estes said. “It was our first time coming to states and I was like ‘you’re here because you’re going to see me win.’ I knew we were going to win.”
“Winning, that’s what made me want to do even better and keep running because it can take me somewhere,” Brandon said.
“It’s every student athletes dream to get a ring,” Martin said. “I can look at my kids and be like ‘hey look what I have.’”
But the road wasn’t always easy for the Bulldogs. White recalled their first meet of the season at Patrick County when they were all coming off of other tough events and weren’t sure if they could sprint one more time.
That’s when they realized that the long practices were worth it because White said it proved they were stronger than they realized.
“We were like ‘we got this, but we don’t got this,’” White said with a laugh. “Then I looked and I said ‘hey, she was in our event, she’s was in our event, and she was’ and I said the only thing we’ve got to do is breathe, don’t talk to anyone, just focus … By the end everyone was looking at each other like ‘I can’t breathe, but that was a good race ladies.’ And everybody was on the bus congratulating each other.”
The chemistry and support the runners got from each other, their coaches, family and teammates, and seeing messages posted online and posters of good luck at the school was something else that pushed them throughout the season.
Once it came to race day though, the Bulldogs still knew anything could happen. In the end though, they also knew their hard work and dedication was enough to carry them to new heights.
“To be honest it was very unreal. I was extremely proud of what me and my teammates accomplished. I was just overwhelmed with excitement and happiness,” Mitchell said of the win. “It’s a good feeling. Now the younger girls have something to look up to. I hope to be an inspiration.”
“I prayed. Right when I passed the baton I just dropped down and prayed. I just thought it was a dream,” Martin said. “I didn’t know I was just like ‘oh my gosh we just won states. Am I dreaming? Somebody wake me up.’ I don’t know it was a bunch of emotions.”
“That was my mindset the whole time,” Brandon said. “I didn’t think we were really going to win I just had that mindset in the back of my head… It still feels unreal.”
And while Olympians get medals for their accomplishments, the Bulldogs will also get something shiny for theirs too. They were fitted for state championship rings Friday and should receive them sometime in the coming months.
White already knows which finger she wants to wear hers on – her left ring finger, because in her mind “I’m married to track,” she said.