Saudia James-Heard has gotten used to being one of the fastest girls her age in the area. At 12 years old, she can recall what spurned an interest in competitive racing about six years ago.
“I was at a family barbeque at the park, and we had a race, and I was beating all the older kids,” James-Heard said, “so everyone said I should start running.”
It should be no surprise, then, that the soon-to-be seventh-grader at Hutdloff Middle School in Lakewood has already seen a great amount of success at track meets on both the local, state and national level. Currently ranked eighth in the nation in the 400-meter dash in the “Midget” category, James-Heard recently broke the meet record in the 400 at the Washington State Hershey Track and Field Championships on June 30 at Mount Tahoma High School.
“I was just so happy. That record hadn’t been broken since 1995,” said James-Heard. “I was overwhelmed by being able to break the record, and my name being in the record book.”
Nate Wilford, who coaches James-Heard with the Flying AJ’s Track Club in Federal Way, notes that her love for running is what allows for the success.
“You have to actually love to do (the 400), and the training as well. It’s not for everybody,” said Wilford, who also coaches athletes such as 3A state 100-meter champ Alanna Coker and 4A 100- and 200-meter champ Kennadi Bouyer, of Curtis. “(James-Heard) looks like a feather when she’s running. She’s so light on her feet, she’s so smooth and she’s extremely flexible.”
That overall athleticism allowed James-Heard to move on to the national AAU Club Championships, held on July 9-15 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. She not only set a personal record time of 58.84 seconds in placing third in the 400, but broke the meet record in the long jump – another event she excels at along with the 100- and 200-meter dashes – by placing second with a jump of 17 feet.
“Everybody was cheering for me, which was pretty exciting,” said James-Heard, noting the crowd of about 8,000 spectators.
She continued her busy month by travelling to Houston last weekend for the AAU Junior Olympic Games, scheduled to take place from July 25 to Aug. 4. And having spent time in the past learning from Olympic sprinters like Marion Jones and Sanya Richards, James-Heard admits the World Olympics is something she thinks about for the future. “It would just be a really nice experience, to have everybody watching every move – see how gracefully you run. I like everybody watching me move.”
But Wilford notes that, just as is the case with how far she has already come, any amount of achievement takes hard work.
“We need to enjoy the moments, enjoy the success,” Wilford said, “but if we want to get better in the sport we’ve got to keep working at it.”