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Four of her fingers on each hand lock together, thumbs out, as she slowly settles into the starting position of the 100-meter hurdles.
After the starting gun goes off, North Oldham High School junior Brianne Brown bolts out of the blocks, barreling towards the first hurdle.
She glides over each hurdle with grace and power.
Brown’s running prowess, determination and ability have endeared her to three-time U.S. Olympic gold-medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and have her poised for a shot at the Olympics in four years.
Already this year Brown won the 60-meter hurdles at the Wildcat Classic indoor meet at the University of Kentucky in 9.22 seconds. On March 3, she took first place at the Mason-Dixon Games in Louisville in the 55-meter hurdles in 9.01 seconds and won the 55-meter dash in 7.47 seconds.
NOHS coach Alan Yanke said Brown has always had potential, but this year is her best yet.
“She’s very athletic but all of a sudden, it’s clicked that she knows what she has to do to improve,” Yanke said. “Her work ethic was the one piece that she had to get to. This year, she’s found it.”
One of the world’s greatest female runners found Brown’s abilities to be exceptional as well.
While participating in the Maximum Velocity track and field academy camp last summer at Centre College, Brown caught the attention of instructor Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time world champion and the world record-holder in the women’s heptathlon with 7,291 points.
Joyner-Kersee said she is amazed by Brown’s strong running style.
“She was just very raw and I was just in awe of her ability running the hurdles,” Joyner-Kersee said. “When I saw her powering down that track…Wow!”
Brown said she had no idea of her potential. Though she’d played soccer, volleyball, t-ball and participated in gymnastics, she didn’t like running track until three years ago after encouragement from her parents.
She met Joyner-Kersee after tripping over a hurdle at the camp. Brown impressed the Olympian by quickly getting back up and running again, Joyner-Kersee said.
The two bonded during the camp and stayed connected afterward through sometimes daily text or phone conversations.
“It’s just such an honor for her to be talking to a girl like me,” Brown said. “I still can’t believe it. Every time I look at her number in my phone, ‘I’m like, oh, I have her number.’”
Brown sent Joyner-Kersee film of her races for critique and worked to correct bad habits, like running flat-footed and not swinging her arms.
This year, Brown said she can tell a difference in her running after using what she learned from Joyner-Kersee and Yanke.
“It’s probably just my confidence this year,” Brown said. “I know running’s my sport, so every time I run, I feel comfortable on the track.”
Brown’s confidence has transferred to her teammates as well.
NOHS freshman Jesse Sanders hands the baton to Brown for her anchor leg of the Lady Mustangs’ 4x100-meter relay team.
Sanders said she and her teammates look to Brown each meet.
“We can really trust her because if we mess up one of our handoffs, it’s really hard to recover because it’s just such a fast race,” Sanders said. “With someone like her there, we know even if it’s her trying to do her best, we always know she can pull up the back end.”
Aside from her goal of winning a state championship this spring, Brown said she’s also set a goal of competing for the U.S. Olympic team in Rio De Janeiro at the 2016 summer games.
Joyner-Kersee, who mentors and works with other runners around the country, said she believes Brown is on track to get there.
“If she continues to grow, develop and stay humble, I see great things for her,” Joyner-Kersee said. “She’s a hidden jewel and a treasure. I think she has the potential, the ability, but she has to continue to work hard and allow everything to come full circle.”
With encouragement from Joyner-Kersee, Yanke and her teammates, Brown said she has the confidence to accomplish more in the future.
“I need to get faster and train harder,” Brown said. “I know sometimes I beat myself up. I just keep on pushing myself and saying it’s gonna get better from here.”
It gets better each time she blasts out of the starting blocks.
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