By Moses Leos III
Four area students will get the chance to take on national competition as they qualified for the 50th Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics, which will be held in Houston July 27-Aug. 6.
Briannah Arrant, 12, and Nikayla Fitzgerald, 13, along with Hays High School students Camille Dickson and Brianna Kaminski, will be a part of the 16,000 to 18,000 athletes who attend the Junior Olympics across 18 sports.
Briannah Arrant, who attends Wallace Middle School, will compete in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, where she received medals in both events at the state level competition. Arrant is currently ranked the third fastest in both events in the 13-year-old division in AAU Region 19.
Fitzgerald, who attends Chapa Middle School, will also compete in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She also qualified in the long jump with a mark of 16’3”, which was a personal record.
Arrant and Fitzgerald can trace their track and field backgrounds to their parents, who also participated in track and field in their youth.
Quanta Arrant, Briannah’s mother, said both she and her husband met while they were juniors in high school. She said not only did they meet that year, but both also participated at the AAU Junior Olympics.
During their high school and college years, Quanta said she and her husband went through the track and field process. That included their Junior Olympics experience, which she said was “different back then,” as athletes didn’t always have set times to run.
“But for me, it was more than competing. It was bonding with friends and having a good experience out there,” Quanta said. “Working hard amongst others; like-minded individuals that are going for something, but also doing something on their own time.”
Both Quanta and her husband soon got their children acclimated to the track, looking to see if they also could develop rhythm and see “if they can slide in it.”
Briannah’s parents said her coordination came at an early age. Quanta said you couldn’t teach coordination and footwork.
“We did something once and she’d do it again,” Quanta said. “We saw there was a strong possibility she could be strong in track and field. “
Briannah said her first experience in track and field began when her father worked with her and her three siblings on the track.
But she didn’t begin racing competitively until she was 11. Attending her first practices and meets was “kind of scary” for Briannah.
“It felt kind of scary. I was kind of nervous,” she said. “But after I was done running, it didn’t feel so bad.”
While competing at the regional meet in San Antonio, Briannah said it was “fun” running against athletes who could push her athletic abilities to the limit.
Quanta said she sees a “lot of myself” in how Briannah competes, as well as her desire. She’s also noticed the difference in her approach to training. Quanta said Briannah is a “little more knowledgeable at certain points” with every race she competes in.
While the experience of attending the Junior Olympics “feels kind of weird,” Briannah said she was excited to compete in the games.
“It feels exciting to go,” Briannah said. “I know that I can do well and I can run and try my best.”
Nikayla said she is equally excited to compete at the Junior Olympics, for which she had qualified twice before, but couldn’t attend.
Nikayla said she is looking forward to “seeing all of the competition” and where she ranks in the country.
“I want to exceed and pass my goals … to get first place,” Nikayla said.
Her path toward track and field began when she was nine years old with the Mid-City Elite Track Club of Kyle.
Nikayla said she competed in the 100- and 200-meter running events, as well as the long jump.
But it was a challenge for Nikayla, who became the first girl to train with MCE.
“It was scary at first, because I was nervous to run with all of the boys,” she said. “But they treated me well and I had good competition.
Kimberley Fitzgerald, Nikayla’s mother, said Nikayla’s coaches often chided her male teammates whenever she beat them.
“They would turn around and tell them, ‘you just let a girl beat you?’” Kimberley said.
Currently, Nikayla is training with her coach Steve Robertson. In addition, she also had the chance to meet Sonya Richards-Ross and Marquise Goodwin, who both competed in the Olympic games and attended the University of Texas at Austin.
Kimberley said both gave Nikayla “great advice” on training and working in the classroom.
Nikayla also comes from a track and field background. Kimberley said she participated in the triple jump, while her husband competed in running events.
While all three of her triplets are active, Kimberley said Nikayla showed her track and field prowess at an early age.
“She’s the only one that climbed trees and ran away from you,” Kimberley said. “She has goals and she stays forward on them. She sets them. She has dedication.”
For Nikayla, the future could center on possibly vying for a trip to the 2024 Olympic games. Perhaps sooner, she aims to attend the University of Texas at Austin for college.
Motivation for Nikayla is found through her grandmother, who has been suffering from lung cancer, Kimberley said.
“She says every time she wins a medal, this is for you, grandma,” Kimberley said. “It’s been a year for her.”
Keeping focused on moving forward one step at a time is the focus for Kimberley.
“As parents, you always strive to keep them focused on ‘one step at a time.’ She’s focused. She sleeps, eats and breathes track,” Kimberley said.
Dickson will compete in the open 200-meter dash and the long jump. Both Kaminski and Dickson will compete on the same 1600-meter relay team. Both Dickson and Kaminski train with CenTex Elite Track Club.