“As long as the heart beats, as long as body and soul keep together, I cannot admit that any creature endowed with a will has need to despair of life.”
— Jules Verne, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”
Aliayah McDonald sat surrounded by her Harker Heights teammates at about the 25-yard marker of the Wildcat Stadium turf, gently massaging her well-worn legs.
Less than 30 minutes prior, she was laid out on her back in agony in the grass along the outside of the track after those very same legs gave out on her coming out of the blocks in the 200-meter final Saturday afternoon.
This wasn’t how the future University of Arkansas runner had envisioned her final district track meet turning out.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Lady Knights senior openly wept into the arms of Heights girls track coach Michelle Womack after she was upset in her signature event — the 400-meter dash — by Temple’s Tiesha Gammons.
Kicking as she entered the midway point, McDonald could not sustain the effort as her legs began to tighten up coming down the final 50 meters.
Gammons took advantage, passing McDonald to win the 400 by more than a second, relegating her to a runner-up finish.
But as she sat surrounded by her teammates an hour or so later, McDonald was no longer sad, despite her rough day individually. She and the rest of the Lady Knights were still champions.
With seven gold medals — three dangling around the neck of senior sprinter Brittany Adkins — to go along with five silvers and bronzes, the Harker Heights girls racked up 17 medals and won the program’s fourth district championship in 10 years.
Adkins anchored both the 400- and 800-meter relays and won the 100-meter dash as Heights took home the District 8-5A team title, with 196.5 points — more than 100 ahead of runner-up Belton.
Even when McDonald or another teammate struggled, there was another Lady Knights runner to pick up the slack.
In the 200, despite McDonald being unable to finish the race, JoVanna Jones edged a trio of Killeen runners to earn gold. There was also the surprise gold medal for 15-year-old freshman Charlotte Fleming, who overtook pre-race favorite Fabby Andujar of Copperas Cove over the final 25 meters of the 3,200 run to win.
Even when the Lady Knights won individually, they did it as a team, including a 1-2 finish in the triple jump by Vivian Walkers and Alexis Ridley, a 2-3 finish in the 100 hurdles for Teal Williams and Jaleea Bonnell, and of course, coming in 2-3-4 in the 400, as Kennetra Hill and Corianna Parham racked up points behind McDonald.
And if Harker Heights hopes to continue its winning ways and cross the finish line at the 5A state meet in May, it’ll be because the entire team continues to unite around one another.