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The City Journals

Cross country runner shows grit in tough finale of her striking rookie season

Feb 13, 2020 02:41PM ● By Mark Jackson

Providence Hall Junior High’s State Track team. (Photo provided by Robyn Yardley)

By Mark Jackson | [email protected]

Running is a mental sport. There is only one way to win: manage your breath and your pace so you reach the finish line in the shortest time possible. 

Pushed to exhaustion, there are only two options a runner can take: stop — or, the harder choice — take the next step. 

During the 2019 state championship race, when Herriman eighth grader Keiana Yardley felt thick mud scoop her shoe off her foot and felt her ankle twist, she kept running, eyes toward the goal — one step after another. 

A few hundred yards later, she stumbled across the matted grass of the finish line with one foot in a shoe and the other wrapped in a wet sock smooth with mud. 

Her parents joined her at the finish line as she broke into tears from exhaustion. 

Though Keiana finished fourth in her age bracket, she completed a season that proved her to be a leader and produced its share of cross country glory with a major upset victory as regionals. 

One year earlier, Keiana did not want to be a runner; she considers volleyball her first sport. But, last May, she signed up for Providence Hall Junior High cross country team to run alongside her friend Jocelyn Nelson. 

Keiana took to running immediately. Her coaches quickly assigned her leadership responsibilities, and she won her first race easily. 

Then, in the third race of the season, Keiana met a suitable rival: Eva Brinkerhof, a club runner with three years of cross country experience and already a dominant cross country track champion. 

“I just wanted to keep her in my sights,” Keiana said. Despite losing by a wide margin, she pushed herself harder than ever before, beating her personal record by one minute. 

“I wasn’t aware how much faster I was running,” she said with a smile. 

Keiana returned to training with fierce determination. In the regionals race a few weeks later, she faced Eva again. 

“I thought, ‘Eva will probably beat me,’” she said, “‘But I decided to get closer this time.” The track was hilly and exhausting -- but with each stride, Keiana closed the gap with Eva before taking the lead within sight of the finish line. 

The upset at regionals surprised the organizers so much that the announcer had to read the results twice: Everyone had expected Eva to win. 

For Keiana, the upset made the result that much more satisfying. 

“If I lost to her, people would be like, ‘Eva has trained more, whatever.’ But if I beat her, people would be like, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’” she said.

“It was very fun to watch,” said Keiana’s mother, Robyn, who also competed as a cross country runner.

Following her victory at regionals, Keiana was disappointed in the result of her first state championship cross country race. However, she says her victory at regionals and her trial at state each pushed her to dig deeper than she ever has. 

“You can tell that she’s got that driven mentality,” said her father, Bryan. 

In one season, the sport of cross country has proved to Keiana several times that she is capable of more than she knows. Her running career will keep proving greater possibilities. Perhaps a first-season finale proving her determination is a fitting way to close the first chapter.