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Grace under pressure

West Marshall senior makes first individual appearance at state

Grace Girard

STATE CENTER — Typically a state-qualifying meet is remembered for the elation of running a great race and earning your spot at the biggest stage in Iowa high school track and field, but last year’s meet left a different mark on West Marshall senior Grace Girard.

After earning a spot at the state meet with relay teams her freshman and sophomore season, Girard failed to return as a junior for the first time in her career. Even worse, she was just a second away from a qualification in the 1,500-meter run, and she said it was excruciating to find out she was left in the cold.

“I had a really bad attitude last year going into districts, I was seeded like 10th and finished sixth, and I remember finishing that race and seeing that time on the clock and thinking, ‘there’s no way I’m getting in with this,'” Girard said. “I kind of slowed up, went across the finish line, didn’t give it my best and then when I saw I was so close to qualifying, I was really disappointed in myself.”

There’s only two ways for an athlete to go after such a painful failure, either spiral downward or rise from the ashes. Girard has absolutely done the latter.

In her final state-qualifying meet of her Trojan career, Girard went 3-for-3 with wins in the 3,000, 1,500 and the distance medley relay, where she ran a fantastic 800 anchor leg. Girard had career-best runs of 11 minutes, 24.14 seconds in the 3,000 and 5:19.23 in the 1,500, and she said if it wasn’t for the disappointment of the previous year she might not be at the state meet now.

“Coming into this year, I definitely thought, ‘I can’t shortchange myself anymore, I need to be confident because you never know what other people are going to run,'” she said. “That self-confidence is what’s really held me back I think, so all season it’s been about my believing I can do this, and that has definitely helped improve my performance.”

With the state qualifications in track, Girard is now a perfect 3-for-3 for her senior year as well. She was a state competitor in cross country in the fall, her second-straight year at the state meet in Fort Dodge, and she and the Trojan girls basketball team made an appearance at Wells Fargo Arena. These final qualifications, Girard said, are almost more special to her because of the journey she has taken.

“I never thought I would ever be able to get into state individually, so I relied on those relays,” she said. “We had some really good middle-distance runners those first two years, so I kind of used those to get into state and last year was a wake-up call that I can’t use a relay to get into state, so that was something else I had to work on.”

Girard is seeded 14th in the 3,000 and 18th in the 1,500, but all year she has shown an ability to cut her time when racing against fast opponents. And after her showing in the district meet, she’s not feeling much pressure.

“I am so happy, I finally beat my career personal records in all my events,” she said. “It’s just amazing, last year I was never even close to any of these times, It’s absolutely amazing. I am extremely grateful for my parents, my coaches, my teammates, everybody who has been there for me and making me believe that I can do this.”

Girard will run in the 3,000 for West Marshall on Thursday at the Iowa High School State Track and Field Championships at 9:40 a.m. and she will close out the Trojan girls’ races on Saturday with the 1,500 at 2:45 p.m.