By Jacob Jimmerson
Staff reporter

In story

Taylor Needham, freshman, practices drills with the hurdles. Needham qualified for Nationals in the 400 meter hurdles. (Kylie Stamper/Collegian photographer)

The sound of the gun fires and her muscles begin to move quickly as she sprints across the track. This is something that Taylor Needham, biochemistry freshman, does on a weekly basis. It’s something that she has been doing since fifth grade. She not only does this each week, but she does it so well that she has qualified for nationals as a freshman.

Needham is quiet off the track, but on the track she is anything but that. Bursting on to the scene as a high school freshman, her track career has already been an impressive one. Mike Kirkland, head track and field coach said, “Taylor competed here in Winfield as just a freshman in high school and she turned about everyone’s head when she ran. I knew that she was someone I wanted for the program from that point on.”

Both of Needham’s parents ran at Southwestern College, which has caused Taylor to be the first second generation athlete that Kirkland has coached. Given the family tradition of attending Southwestern, that helped her decision to commit to the Builders an easy one despite her other offers.

Taylor had offers from WSU, Fort Hays, Emporia, Lindenwood, Missouri State, Memphis, and others.

So far Needham has been a great fit for Southwestern. “Taylor’s humble personality fits the small school atmosphere that we bring and I believe that it is one of the reasons she chose to come to school here rather than some of the places that she had offers from.” Kirkland said.

Needham’s quiet personality is shown when she has free time. She prefers just to watch Netflix when she is not studying or running.

In terms of the events she competes in, it has been a relatively easy transition.

Needham ran several events in high school, but specialized in the 300 meter hurdles, the 4X100 relay team and the 4X400 relay team. It’s a similar list of events now for Needham, but now runs the 400 meter hurdles. This has appeared to be an easy transition for her since she qualified for nationals the first time that she ran the event with a time of 1:03.86. She also broke the KCAC indoor championships 400 meter dash record in February with a time of 59.17 and then broke the school record at the national meet with a time of 57.50.

Needham said, “The only challenge moving from the 300 hurdles to the 400 hurdles is the extra 100 meters and two hurdles. The last two hurdles are harder to get over because my body hurts more.”

While Needham has excelled in individual events, she also brings her talents to the relay teams.

Ashlee Wenrick, biochemistry junior, runs the lead leg in both the 4X100 and 4X400 relay teams. She said, “Taylor brings a really great attitude and some really fast legs. She is always optimistic about races and is always excited to compete. She is the strongest person on our team mentally and arguably physically.”

Needham has to switch mind sets from her individual events to the relays.  Her fellow runners feel the same way.

Wenrick said, “There are a few differences between relays and individual events. For all but the lead leg, in a relay, you have a running start into your race compared to the block start or standing start of an individual race. Also, just being part of that team on a relay holds you more accountable. There is more pressure to do well because you don’t want to let your team down.”

Needham was a multi-sport athlete in high school, she was on varsity volleyball for a year, varsity cross country for three years, varsity basketball for four years, varsity track for four years, but ended up deciding to devote her time to track for college.

Needham said, “Both my parents ran track in high school and college so track has always been in our family. I think the main reason I love track so much is I had success from the start and it’s something I enjoying working hard in.”

Needham finds many parallels from her life on the track to everyday life. She said, “Track is a lot like life in the way that success doesn’t come easy. You have to work hard to get to where you want to be.”

Despite being only a freshman, Needham has many goals for her life.

Needham has a small bucket list that she wants to complete as well. “The No. 1 thing I want to do is go to the Olympics or Olympic trials and watch. No. 2, I want to visit every continent. And No. 3 is live in the mountains.”

In her remaining time representing the Moundbuilders, Needham has big plans for what she wants to accomplish.

She said, “I want to be a multi-year All-American by the time that I’m done here. I also would like to win at least one national title.” If Needham is able to meet all of her goals by the time that she is done with her track career, she will be a decorated athlete.

Beyond her goals Needham’s love for track isn’t just a sport, it’s a hobby. She said, “The feeling runners get when the gun goes off and after the race is what we live for.”

Jacob Jimmerson is a sophomore majoring in communication. You may email him at jacob.jimmerson@sckans.edu