Published on August 7th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff0
District Five student earns top finish at USA Track and Field Junior Olympics, named an All-American
Pictured: Jais Ward, 2015 USA Track and Field Junior Olympics All-American.
IRMO – Harbison West Elementary School fourth grader Jais Ward is getting a lot of attention these days for her running, but she doesn’t quite understand why.
“I think I’m good at running,” said Jais, a 9-year-old member of The Storm Track Club of Irmo/Chapin. “I just like running because it helps get my energy out, and I get to be with my friends. My mom and grandmother also run. So, I wanted to do it to be like them and have that experience.”
The summer “experience” for Jais has included a first place finish and state record in the 800 meter race and a second place finish in the 400 meter race at this year’s USA Track & Field South Carolina Association Junior Olympic Championship June 12-14. She placed second in the 800 meters at regionals and sixth in the nation in that event at this year’s USA Track and Field Junior Olympics July 27-August 2.
“Nationals was exciting, but I was really nervous because there were girls from all around the nation,” said Jais, a student in Lexington-Richland School District Five’s magnet program for academically gifted elementary students, the Escolares Academy at Harbison West Elementary. “I just wanted to make it, so I ran my hardest. When I found out I placed sixth, I was thinking ‘this is really cool.’ I worked hard and did something I had never done before.”
A soccer player and former gymnast, Jais first became interested in track by watching others on the field. She asked her mom to give track and field a try, and started her first-full season with the team in 2014.
“The first time she ever ran on a track, we knew that night we had a diamond in the rough…a superstar in the making,” said Doug Kotti, head coach of The Storm. “Jais wanted to run sprints because in her words ‘they were shorter’… I got down on one knee looked her in the eyes and asked her to run the 800. Just try it…After she qualified for the 800 finals at nationals she called me and said ‘Coach, I want to thank you for asking me to run the 800. I’m going to dedicate this race to you.’ That’s the type of kid she is.”
For Jais, finishing in the top eight nationally and earning the title of All-American hasn’t seem to quite set in, said Bunnie Ward, Jais’ mom.
“She’s a normal 9-year-old little girl,” said Ward, who serves as School Improvement Council chair for Harbison West Elementary. “She’s earned these amazing accomplishments: she broke her own record twice at nationals, she ran a 2:34 in the finals, she was the only 9-year-old to make the finals at nationals…and now she is refocusing on her summer project and summer reading. What is she most excited about? …Just being a fourth grader. We’re proud of what she’s done through hard work and determination, but even more proud about how she is using her accomplishments to tell other kids ‘they should set and reach their goals too.’”
Kotti said, “People who excel at sports or at anything, have three main traits in common. They have to have natural ability, they have to have unbelievable determination and work ethic, and they have to have intelligence. Jais has the trifecta, and there’s no doubt in my mind that she can excel. She’s special.”
For now, Jais is focused on the start of school on August 19. More than the titles and awards, Jais hopes what she has been able to achieve in track will inspire others.”
“If you want to do something but you think you’re not good enough for it, just go ahead and do it to get the experience,” said Jais, who aspires to be a doctor and professional athlete. “Try it, and see where it takes you.”
Harbison West Elementary School Principal Arthur Newton added, “Jais is a great student and an example of the determination and can-do attitude of our students. We’re proud of her accomplishments and can’t wait to see what she’ll achieve in and outside of the classroom this school year.”