Jaylyn Johnson, 16, won the 300-meter hurdles in 45.90 seconds at the state meet last year as a freshman. She was second in the 100 hurdles and 200 meters and also ran on Central’s second-place 1,600 relay team. Her 28 points helped the Yellowjackets take second place, four points behind Western Hills’ winning total of 65.
Do you remember your introduction to track?
I just remember (her mother, Joy Dowlen Ritchie) telling me to put on my practice clothes and we ended up at the track. I was 5, but there were more kids there (at Westside) my age than you’d think there would be. I’ve been running a long time for (coach Chico Underwood). My mother ran for Jeffersontown and for Chico at Westside.
What do you attribute your improvement last spring to?
Technique. I wasn’t snapping my legs as fast as I was supposed to. Once you get your technique down, you have more speed and it all goes well.
Is it harder to become a hurdler than a sprinter?
I’m not saying it’s harder, but it takes patience. Chico has taught me a lot of things. He’s a great coach.
Did you surprise yourself in what you accomplished at State as a freshman?
Yes. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect to run a 45 in the 300 hurdles. That was my personal best.
Even though you’re 5 feet 2, your height doesn’t seem to be a disadvantage for you.
I’m one of the shortest hurdlers, but I try not to think about it. It doesn’t matter how short you are.
How did you fare in USATF competition last summer?
We had five or six meets. In the regional at Cedarville, Ohio, I was second in the 400 hurdles and I ran on our 4 x 800 relay team. I don’t care for that race, but I know how to run it. In the nationals at Baltimore, I came in 23rd in the 400 hurdles. It’s harder at that level. There’s a lot of competition.
What events will you run in the Lyles Invitational at Central on Saturday?
Probably the same ones: the 100 and 300 hurdles, the 200 and the 1,600 relay. My goal this year is to get down to 44 seconds in the 300 hurdles and get a faster time in the 200, although I don’t have any certain time in mind.
How do you enjoy yourself away from school and running?
I used to dance hip-hop and compete in gymnastics. I like to flip. Now I’m really into arts and crafts, making bracelets and hair bows. I like scary movies. If I watch TV, I watch sports, “Law & Order,” “CSI” or “NCIS.”
How strong should Central’s girls’ team be this spring?
We have a lot of newcomers. Last year just a few girls got points for us (at State). We’ll have a lot of help this year.
JAYLYN JOHNSON UP CLOSE
* School: Central. Year: Sophomore
* Sports: Track, cross country
* Student/athlete: Jaylyn has a 3.1 GPA while taking classes in the nursing magnet program (she hopes to become a nurse or a pediatrician). She loves to play powder puff football during the school’s homecoming festivities.
* Family: Jaylyn lives with her mother, Joy Dowlen Ritchie, and stepfather, Maurice Ritchie, and younger sisters Imyian Stamp, Monet Ritchie and Jua’ya Johnson. Imyian, 12, runs for the Westside Track Club, as does Jaylyn. Jaylyn’s father, James Johnson, attends her big invitational meets.
* Coach Chico Underwood: “Jaylyn is a great kid, athlete and student, and is a fast learner. She wants to be the best hurdler in the country. She asked me where her mother could buy some hurdles so she could practice at home. She’s been with me at Westside since she was 5.”
— Bob White