Nationals, certainly no cake walk; Gray places 15th

Kayla Gray capped off her Lake Region track and field career with an appearance last weekend at the Nationals in North Carolina. She placed 15th in the racewalk. (Rivet File Photo)

Kayla Gray capped off her Lake Region track and field career with an appearance last weekend at the Nationals in North Carolina. She placed 15th in the racewalk. (Rivet File Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

As Kayla Gray prepared for the mile race walk at the New Balance Nationals, she found her competitors to be “really nice.”

When the gun sounded to begin the event, Gray discovered a quick change.

“They were very intimidating during the race. I didn’t expect the others to be so fast!” said the recent Lake Region High School graduate. “I was definitely amazed by the sub-8 walkers!”

Gray’s first appearance on the “national” stage was both memorable and highly competitive.

Going into nationals held over the weekend at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, N.C., Gray was seeded 13th out of 32 girls.

“I also knew that seeds 6 through 14 were all within less than 10 seconds of each other. My goal was to have a strong race and come in sixth, which would get me a podium and All-American finish,” she said.

Another goal was to beat girls from Maine that Gray hadn’t raced against before.

“I really wanted to go sub-8 minutes because my coach, Tom Menendez, had told me that race walkers aren’t taken seriously unless they go sub-8, so I really wanted to go sub-8 to prove how serious I was,” Gray said.

Gray placed 15th overall in 8 minutes, 33.17 seconds. Annica Penn of Westhampton Beach won the race walk in 7:29.87.

“Coming into the race I was extremely nervous. During my race, I felt really strong up until the third and last lap, where I felt dead,” she said. “I hadn’t gotten to train as seriously the two weeks before Nationals because of senior activities etc, so I predicted I wouldn’t do as well as planned, but I was hoping all of my training and hard work would pay off, but it didn’t!”

To be a top race walker, Gray says one must be “extremely focused and dedicated to the event.”

“I put in more effort in every aspect of race walking. I made a lot of sacrifices so that I would be guaranteed success. It didn’t matter what I would do each day at practice, either a hard workout, an easy workout, or strength training. Regardless, I would always ask myself what my competition was doing that day,” Gray said. “That one question made me even more dedicated to my training. All in all, if it hadn’t been for the support of all of the track coaches, my teammates, friends or family, I wouldn’t have been as good as I was!”

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