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'Quite the journey:' Kelso's Jaida Barrows takes first in state in ambulatory cross county

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Three years ago, Kelso High School cross country coach Tim Wines told Jaida Barrows she would go to state her senior year. She said she thought he was crazy.

But he wasn’t. Jaida made it to state this year, her junior year, and she came in first in her division, setting a personal time record. She already is training to go back next year.

“It’s been quite the journey and it’s not over yet because now I want to go back and do it again,” she said.

Jaida, 17, started running cross country in eighth grade because the coach was her favorite teacher. She said she planned to quit when she reached high school because she has cerebral palsy that affects her vision and motor skills.

“I honestly thought that some high school coach wouldn’t want me,” Jaida said. “I thought sports was ‘go get this amazing time that’s fast and help us win.’ ”

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But Wines takes a different approach to sports, Jaida said, and recruited her for the high school team during a middle school meet. It was her first-ever race, and when the gun went off, she was so nervous she tripped and fell, and then fell several more times in the start of the race.

Wines stepped in, Jaida said, and said he would run with her and help guide her around the course.

“That whole 45 minutes he recruited me,” she said. “He kept asking me ‘you’re going to run (in high school) right?’ And I hadn’t really thought about it.”

She eventually agreed, despite her worries, but “it worked and I can never think of doing something different.”

Kelso High School Athletic Director Jason Coburn said Jaida “has the heart and determination of a lion.”

In Jaida’s freshman year, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association created a new racing section for students with disabilities called the ambulatory division. The length is shorter than the other courses, Jaida said, and the time requirements are different. She thinks the current formula is the perfect balance of increased access without being demeaning.

“If it was any less, it starts to be more of a contrast, more of ‘you’re different,’ ” she said. “That whole difference thing, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to people who don’t have a disability, but to people who do, it’s like, we know what that is and we don’t like that feeling of being different.”

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The current course of 1.5 miles instead of 3 miles to qualify for state is a good balance, she said, and was what helped Jaida go to state this year. After having surgeries on her feet earlier in the year, she said she wasn’t ready to do two miles in under 45 minutes.

In the regional competition Oct. 30, Jaida ran the 1.5-mile course and had to do it in under 30 minutes to qualify for state. She did it in 24:11, her best time thus far by several minutes.

“When I’m nervous, everything tightens up,” she said. “I learned to control it in the three years I’ve been running, but as soon as the gun went off I was like, ‘oh goodness.’ It was the longest 24 minutes of my life.”

By the back half of the course, Jaida said she was in a lot of pain, but “my coach was there every step of the way. He ran the whole outside of the course.”

And when she reached the finish line and saw the number 24 on the clock, “I had so much stress and emotion in my shoulders and in my body that I just cried because I knew I had made it.”

While the path to state was clear, another hurdle quickly popped up. The week of the competition, Jaida got a migraine for several days, then a cold. She was unable to train the entire week before state, but was healthy enough to run the day of the competition.

The two-mile state course needed to be finished in 30 minutes because the boys’ race was supposed to start on the same course. Throughout the course, Jaida said she felt her lack of training that week, but she still managed to break her old two-mile record.

It took her 39 minutes and 3 seconds to run the race with her two guide runners who help her navigate the course. Race officials held off starting the boys race until she crossed the finish line.

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She was the only one in the female division of the ambulatory race, and her coach’s first state champion.

Jaida’s guide runners and friends, Lily Evans and Sophia Cheslock, helped her stand on the winner’s podium because she was so tired, but Jaida said it’s fitting they were in the photos and at the podium.

“We took (the photos) with the girls holding my hands, which I didn’t mind,” Jaida said. “I won, I did this, but it’s not just my determination and the work I put in. It’s also the people who stood behind me.”

Her family and teammates supported and encouraged her on the difficult days, helping her work through the pain of running and the extra injuries running with cerebral palsy can create. Jaida said she appreciates all the work Wines put into coaching her in a way that works for her body.

“Depending on how my body feels, we might not be able to do what we had planned today,” Jaida said. “We have to take it one day at a time.”

She also appreciates Wines seeking her out, saying that it’s rare for a coach to seek out someone with a disability to participate in a sport. Without him, she would not have kept competing, Jaida said, and now, “I think that I’ll continue to get faster.”


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