[Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Brenham Banner-Press on March 25, 2011.]
Byron Taylor walked out of the Cubs field house Wednesday afternoon, slow to make his way to the track. As the door slams behind him, he lifts his arms and says, “This is my sanctum.”
He stands tall and proud, an aura of confidence surrounding him as he passes through the black gate and his feet hit the track’s surface.
“How many laps today?” he calls out.
“Two,” a teammate shouts.
And with that, he’s gone, wasting no time to complete his warm-up laps.
He’s right. This is his sanctum. This is where he feels home, alive. This is where he wants to be when he’s sitting in class, tucked behind a mound of homework or finding himself with a bit of down time.
“I bleed track,” he said.
Taylor is the Cubs’ top triple jumper. He also is a long jumper and runs for the Cubs’ 400-meter relay teams.
But the triple jump is where Taylor and the Brenham coaches agree he excels most.
Wednesday is a light day of workouts. Ray Davidson, one of Brenham’s many track coaches, only wants Taylor to practice enough to work on his technique but not enough to take the spring out of his step for today’s meet, the Bluebonnet Relays at Cub Stadium. This one is important to Taylor – it’s on his home track, the weather is finally beginning to warm up and his family will be here watching all of his events. Nearly all the pieces have aligned.
Will this be the meet where he finally reaches his goal of 47 feet?
That’s been his motivation since he began to train in the offseason, and he must clear that in a 60-meter stretch where he must sprint, bound, stride and soar into the sand.
He’s come close already.
At the Wildcat Relays in Elgin on March 11, something just felt right. Before his jump, Taylor told head coach Jerry Newman he was about to do well.
Davidson was expecting something good to come too.
“I said at the beginning of the year, we had kind of the bad weather and he was jumping 42-something – nothing great – but I knew something was going to happen,” Davidson said.
Taylor cleared 44 feet on his first jump of the day. But something was still a little off.
Refocused and readjusted, his next jump he hit 45-5 – the best jump of his career and enough to earn him a gold medal.
Back in practice, Taylor starts at the halfway point of the runway – the long strip of red-clay colored track that stands between him and the sand pit.
There’s much to think about before he makes his leap – keep a constant speed, knees up, feet pointed in the air, attack the ground hard.
His first jumps are decent, and Davidson works with him to tweak his technique.
Paw the ground, he tells him – meaning to land more on his heel so his foot can roll to his toes and he can spring to his next jump. Work your arms to keep your center of mass moving forward.
That’s the biggest key. The entire time during his jump his body is fighting off deceleration, which can kill his distance. Any slight deviation in speed, a foot landing too flat, can be the difference between 47 feet and 46.
Finally, he hits it.
“Great!” Davidson shouts. “If you do that you’ll jump 47 feet.”
That’s Taylor’s goal for the year – to jump or clear his 47-foot hurdle he set at the beginning of the track offseason.
It’s what he remembers most as a junior – before he ever considered being a triple jumper – was former Cub Derek Edwards skillfully striding down the runway and flying through the air, landing jumps that could reach 48 feet.
It was Edwards who inspired him to attempt his first triple jump.
“Just looking at him just made me want to do better,” Taylor said.
His first jump came in a junior varsity tournament last year. He cleared 39 feet and earned a spot on the varsity. In his first varsity meet at Klein Oak, he jumped 42 feet. And since then, he’s never looked back.
During the offseason, he and Davidson hit the weight room to build his legs. He also joined the Cubs 400-meter relay teams and built his speed.
All that has prepared him to reach his goals this year and make it to regionals. To do so, he said, he’ll need a 44- or 45-foot jump, which he’s currently averaging.
“I’m right above sea level right now,” he said.
Ending his jumps for the day, Taylor leaves the pits and heads back to the track to continue practice.
He’ll work with Davidson on his steps, then finish the day in the weight room pounding out leg presses.
“You know what my page should be called,” he said walking back to the track. “Mr. C.O.A – center of attention. I like when everyone pays attention to me – I do better.”
“He’s the only one who pays any attention to himself,” a teammate jokes.
Today, he’ll return to his sanctum ready to push his limits in the Bluebonnet Relays. Mr. C.O.A, hoping all the attention is focused his way when, once more, he tries to bound, stride and leap his way to 47 feet.