[media-credit name="Jake Crandall | Harbinger Online" align="alignleft" width="445"][/media-credit]Junior Grace Pickell wipes her sweaty palms on the Adidas spandex track uniform. She takes her mark, jumps and lands. While she lays flat on her back she gets up nervously to check the height. Her eyes are fixated on the bar-at 5 feet 8 inches. This was the highest she had ever jumped.
Grace broke her 5 feet 5 inches record from last year by jumping 5 feet 8 inches at the SME Quad at the beginning of the season. Not only did she break her own school record from last year, but after that meet she was also named third in the nation. Grace’s goal doesn’t stop there, she is hoping to stay undefeated for the rest of the season by keeping her height up.
“Once I heard that I was third in the nation I couldn’t believe it,” Grace said. “It was very exciting because I wasn’t expecting this to happen at the beginning of this year or this year at all.”
As a freshman, Pickell wasn’t sure if she wanted to swim or be a part of the track team. She realized swimming was not her calling because she only did it over the summer to stay in shape and not to compete so she decided to try something new. Pickell made this decision because of one of her major influences, her dad Tim Pickell. Tim was a jumper and hurdler; he convinced her to try one of these events.
“I think as a parent you want your kids to try new things,” Tim said. “I knew she was a really good swimmer, but I wanted her to try track to see if she would like it.”
When Grace was in elementary school, she did the standing long jump at field day. This was her first sign that she could jump high because she beat all of her peers. From then on, she went to her brother, Sam Pickell’s, track meets at East and watched him run. Grace thought it was great being out in the sun and there were boys and girls on the same team.
Grace not only shares her sport with her father, she shares her coach. High jump coach Chuck Sulzen has coached Grace for three years and also coached Tim when he was in high school. According to Grace, there is a special bond between her and her dad because they can compare their track experiences.
“My dad is my motivation to do well above anything else,” Grace said. “Since we were both coached by the same person we can easily share similar stories.”
Grace started jumping 4 feet 4 inches in her first meet as a freshman and by the end of the year went to state with a height of 5 feet 2 inches. As a sophomore, she started reaching 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 4 inches and a half but this year she was getting over 5 feet 4 inches consistently.
“I’ve been amazed with how much she has succeeded,” Tim said. “Not only did she surprise me, but I think she has surprised herself.”
Her goal for the season is to stay consistent; so she practices six out of seven days a week to maintain this. At practice she does plyos on boxes, over and under hurdle exercises and squats with a medicine ball to gain muscle in her legs so she can lift herself over the bar. Sulzen has the jumpers stretch, run laps around the football field and either do strength training or work on their form for jumping.
“Grace and I have to work through her band syndrome and tendonitis and bring it along slowly,” Sulzen said. “We work on how she approaches the jump which is a big percentage of her jump and also form which is a smaller percentage but she’s doing pretty well with it already.”
Grace puts a lot of mental preparation into warming up right before a meet. She drives to every meet with senior Maggie Fenton and listens to “Rack City” by Tyga on the way.
“We have become good friends by doing track together for the past three years,” Fenton said. “It is nice to have someone close to my age on the team that I can go to the meets with and get dinner with after practice.”
This season, Grace has started a tradition of her own for every meet. On her wrist she writes a bible verse, Isaiah 41:10, that says “Don’t be afraid of anything because God is behind you.” This reminds her to stay motivated and confident. One of Grace’s basketball teammates, Caroline Dodd, inspired her to write it on her wrist for every game, so she carried that over to track.
“Having something to remind me that God is behind me keeps me going when I am having a bad day,” Grace said. “Keeping a positive attitude and doing my best is all that matters to me.”
Grace’s competition hasn’t changed immensely throughout her three years on the track team: one from St. Thomas Aquinas and one from Lawrence Free State. Her goal for the past few years has been to beat both of them.
“I was always afraid of the girl from Aquinas because she was so good my freshman year,” Grace said. “I finally beat her this season, which was really exciting.”
Grace hopes to further her talent in high jumping by continuing in college. According to Grace, it’s not just a competitive sport to her, it’s relaxing even though it’s still a constant challenge. Since she has only had three meets this year, her goals are to jump at a higher height above 5 feet 6 inches or even 5 feet 10 inches.
“I would need to consistently be jumping as high as I can,” Grace said. “I really want to go to Arkansas because they have one of the best track programs in the nation.”
Grace’s dad thinks she will be getting college offers soon, but as a parent he says he only wants her to continue with it if she has a passion for it. He is excited for Grace because how talented she is, but he doesn’t want to push her.
“If I want to continue in the future, I need to stay focused,” Grace said. “I can’t let myself get psyched out because I know I can do anything I put my mind to.”