Cross Country: Mind over matter – Senior Taylor Butler’s focus and foot speed lead the Lady Eagles

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, October 7, 2017
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Competitive Mindset

COMPETITIVE MINDSET – Taylor Butler runs the Reunion Run at Joe Wheeler Park Sept. 30. She won the 4A-and-under 3,200, getting around Valley View’s Sydney Reynolds in the final seconds. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Decatur senior Taylor Butler hasn’t always worn blue.

She wore Jackrabbit maroon first.

“When she moved here her freshman year, she was talking about how she was the second best runner in her grade at Bowie,” Coach David Park said. “But I told her not to worry, she’d beat that [no. 1 Bowie girl] the first time she ran against her.”

But Butler didn’t buy it.

Park said her eyes grew wide and she said, “No, Coach. She’s good,” as if Park didn’t understand.

“Well, you’re going to be good, too,” he reassured her.

RACE READY – Decatur senior Taylor Butler is on her mark, ready to run for a championship. Before every race, she said she walks by herself from the line and prays. “I pray for safety for myself and my team behind me and everyone on the line … and thank Him for the opportunity to run,” she said. “There are plenty of people who would like to be where we are.” Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Park’s prediction was right. Not only did Butler beat her former Bowie teammate the first time they faced each other her freshman year, but this year she’s working to lead her team back to the University Interscholastic League 4A cross country championships, a journey that starts next week at the district meet. “I didn’t come to Decatur thinking I’d be anything big at all,” Butler said. “But I’ve been dedicating myself to it, and this is my last year, so I’m going to try to make it my best year.

“Every mistake I made last year I’m going to correct this year.”

When Butler first moved to Decatur, she didn’t know anyone but found her place on the varsity cross country team.

“I still remember that team because they were so big in my life,” she said. “I had no friends. I had no one to look up to. I was brand new in a big, ol’ high school, coming from 2A to 4A. That whole team was a big part of my life that year.”

Butler said she specifically looked up to Jessi Kyle, who eased the ninth grader’s transition and helped her keep a positive outlook.

“Her mentality was amazing,” Butler said. “She was our No. 1 runner, and I was like, ‘I want to be like her one day.'”

Butler said Kyle sought to win races not just for herself, but for the team.

“And that’s what I tried to base this year’s team off of, too,” she said.

Butler, along with teammate Elizabeth Culpepper, are this year’s team captains.

“A lot of times people think of captains as a glorified position, something you hang on your wall,” Park said. “But these girls speak through example and by how hard they work.

“They walk the walk of what you want captains to be,” he said.

The first time Butler and Culpepper ran together they were on opposing teams with no clue they would be chasing a championship together four years later.

“In eighth grade we ran Reunion together,” Butler said. “She had a Decatur uniform on and I was wearing a Bowie one. We were right there beside each other. We saw each other. But we didn’t know each other then.”

Now, Butler said the two are like sisters.

“We can tell each other everything,” she said. “We’ve been through it all together – the tears, the blood, throwing up before state.”

Butler was also a varsity softball player but gave up the sport after her sophomore year to focus on cross country. She was a catcher, which is hard on the legs, and she didn’t want to risk blowing out a knee.

“I just told them it wouldn’t work out,” she said. “I have something more that will take me further if I focus on it.”

Butler said she chose cross country because it’s mentally challenging, and she was tested her sophomore year.

“I wasn’t the best runner, but I wasn’t the slowest runner,” she said. “I had dropped to No. 5. Junior year I started becoming the runner I wanted to be.

“This year I need to have the same mentality as last year if not more to succeed.”

Park said Butler’s tenacity has paid off.

“She’s focused, she’s a competitor and she’s going to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he said.

As they start their championship push, Butler said she’s looking to continually bring her time down with a goal of getting a PR every race.

“I should be physically challenged for (district), but it shouldn’t be my fastest,” she said. “My fastest should be when we get to state.”

She thinks the biggest challenge at next week’s district meet will be the heat. The race is scheduled for late afternoon, but until this week, the team has been running in the early morning hours.

“We switched to afternoon workouts this week, and I’ve been taking it pretty well but there’s a wall right now I need to overcome,” she said.

But to her it’s mind over matter.

“If you tell yourself it’s hot outside, then it’s going to be hot outside,” she said. “If you tell yourself it’s cold outside, it may not be cool, but you’ll be OK. You’ll survive.”

As Butler upped her mental game through the years, her speed has followed suit, and now she finds herself not only fulfilling Park’s prediction her freshman year, but believing it, too.

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