By Leila Grant |

Although my track career began in the spring of my eighth grade year, my curiosity with the sport truly started five years ago at my older brother Bobby’s high school state track meet. 

Watching the men’s 4×400-meter relay finals wide-eyed amongst cheering fans in a T-shirt spirited for Bobby’s school, I saw the event through the lens of an aspiring runner and a camera with a shutter speed not quite fast enough to capture the determined expression on my brother’s face. 

Shortly after this experience, I decided to run in my very first track meet and fell in love with every aspect of the sport. As excited as I was to take on track and follow in my brother’s footsteps, I never would have dreamed of running collegiate track at a university far from home, but here I am — a walk-on athlete at Baylor University 

Running track from eighth grade through my senior year of high school, my identity was deeply rooted in being a student athlete. I was a one of the “Grant family runners,” as my siblings Annie and Bobby had set high standards for me as a hurdler. Everyone expected me to run the 400-meter hurdles at Texas A&M like they did, but my mind shifted elsewhere. Being the youngest of four siblings, I was constantly in search of ways to build my own path and steer away from copying what my older siblings did, as tempting as it was. I looked up to and confided in them for guidance, yet I felt that the college experience I was in search of was not the same as theirs. So, I searched for other universities and found my perfect fit: a medium sized school with a division l track team and only a short drive away from my siblings. 

Baylor became my dream, and in the fall of my senior year in high school, I applied early action. As soon as I received my academic scholarship, I got everything in order to attend the school the following year. Indecisive and hesitant, I was completely unsure of my continuation with the sport of track and field. 

I did what I watched many athletes close to me do and decided that collegiate sports were too big of a commitment. I gave up on my dream and felt as if I had grown out of the sport. I was consumed by questions of “what if?” and told myself that I was not fast enough, strong enough or tough enough to do it. I knew that pre-race anxiety hindered me in my high school career — and thought to myself, “If race anxiety consumed me in high school, how am I to overcome it in college?”

After thinking it over, I decided to be done, and continued on believing that I would never race again. The thought of starting fresh in college put me at ease, but with time I began to realize that most of my day was spent exercising. Going on hikes with my parents, running along the canal listening to my favorite music and attending F45 training classes religiously, I discovered my need to stay active and connect with people around me doing so. I started to feel that it still wasn’t enough and desired the challenge and competition that track always gave me. I craved the excitement and wanted to compete again, but I was too stubborn to admit it. 

Luckily, I was given a second chance through an unexpected phone call by Baylor’s hurdle coach, whom I had spoken to months before about the possibilities of walking on and my interest in the program. I told him about my prior thought process about running and how it had changed. I explained that in my last high school track season, my race anxiety hindered me, and doubt consumed my track career. This disbelief in myself and my abilities had kept me from moving forward with the sport, but I did not want this to be the case any longer. He told me about the resources Baylor has to offer for all athletes and students. With the availability of sports psychology and division I training, I was given the chance to overcome the anxiety and doubt that had once consumed me. 

I am now proud to say that I am a track and field athlete at Baylor and currently tackling my off-season training with track season approaching in a few short months. Although I am a walk-on with my scholarship coming solely from academics, the acceptance I have received from my teammates and coaches, as well as the resources made available to me are something that I’m not sure I could find at any other school. With sore muscles and mental obstacles to overcome every 20-hour practice week, I could not have asked for anything more. The joy I receive after tackling each workout and learning about the sport is unmatched, and the pain is all worth it. I have a long road ahead of me, but I am ready to take on my first collegiate track season as a Baylor Bear.