Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year: Griffith’s Taylor Austin
BY JOHN O’MALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent December 5, 2012 11:02PM
Griffith's Taylor Austin crosses the finish line in the girls race during the New Prairie boys and girls cross country semistate held at New Prairie High School on Saturday October 20, 2012. Austin finished in eighth place with a time of 19:00.0 | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 7, 2013 1:27PM
Jeff Austin introduced his daughter, Taylor, to running when she was a 5-year-old.
“I didn’t really like it at first, but I didn’t complain about it, either,’’ Griffith’s all-state cross country star recalled.
At the time, it’s doubtful anyone would’ve guessed running would become so paramount to Austin.
“Now, I love it,’’ she said. “It’s like my life.’’
In sixth grade, Austin was a sprinter on the track team.
When her coach didn’t have anyone to run the mile, Austin volunteered.
She admitted not liking distance running, though.
In fact, when she was coaxed into running cross country in eighth grade, she was opposed to the idea.
“I remember thinking: ‘What am I doing?’ she said. “I didn’t even know if I was going to run in high school.’’
When she started her freshman year, Griffith coach Shannon Scheidel — who taught a couple of Austin’s classes — tried to convince her to come out for cross country.
“I remember asking Taylor: ‘Why do you not want to do it?’ ” Scheidel said.
Austin said she didn’t want to run five miles. When told it was just three, she eventually relented.
Austin showed up for her first practice in Nike Shocks, a heavy basketball shoe, and was promptly advised by Scheidel to wear a lighter version.
A storybook ending developed over the next four years, with Austin firmly cementing her foot prints in region girls cross country history.
Blessed with great heart, talent and desire, Austin is The Post-Tribune’s Runner of the Year.
“Taylor is amazing to watch,’’ Scheidel said. “She has that natural gazelle stride. Running just seems so natural for her.’’
Austin took first place in 11 races this season — winning an unprecedented fourth straight Northwest Crossroads Conference title as well as Hammond Sectional and Crown Point Regional crowns. She placed third at Lowell’s Bob Thomas Invite, was 15th at the New Prairie Invite, eighth at the NP Semistate and earned all-state honors with her 22nd-place finish at state.
“It was a really good year,’’ she said. “I was happy, but a little bit down at state, because I felt like I could have done a little bit better (she was shooting for a top 15 finish) but I was excited about making the all-star team.’’
Despite not really training — running only on Sundays because of basketball practices — Austin helped Indiana’s all-stars beat teams from Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
While Austin enjoyed an amazingly successful season, it’s truly remarkable when you stop and think she virtually accomplished it alone.
You see, Griffith rarely had the five runners required to form a team.
At an NCC meet with Lowell and Munster, Austin was madder than a hornet that no other teammate competed.
“Some had excuses, because they were hurt and stuff,’’ she said. “But I was still mad because if I was hurt, I would just keep running.’’
Despite the situation, Austin made herself at home that day at Lowell.
“I stretched with the Lowell girls, cooled down with the Munster girls and ran with nobody,’’ she quipped.
Scheidel said what Austin achieved this year is amazing when you consider there really wasn’t anyone — other than LaPorte junior Elena Lancioni who finished ahead of her in three races — to push her.
“Taylor’s goal, obviously, was to get to state, and she ran by herself all season to do that,’’ Scheidel said. “It was basically her against the clock. Up here, there were few girls pushing her. It wasn’t until she got to the bigger meets where she found stiffer competition. Ironically, her times this year were so much faster, and that’s surprising when nobody is really pushing you.
“It just shows you how much desire and dedication she has for the sport. She’s mentally tough. When you’re running alone, you could give up, thinking: ‘It’s only me out here.’ Taylor wouldn’t let anything deter her. She didn’t let the pain in her hips defeat her. She had goals and she met them. Running is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. I think Taylor’s mental toughness is why she’s the athlete she is today.’’
While her mother, Leslie, is her biggest supporter, Austin’s always raced for her dad, who died eight years ago from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
You get the feeling Dad is looking down, bursting with pride.