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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan runners represent at nationals

Feb 07, 2022 02:59PM ● By Catherine Garrett

South Jordan’s Saylor Warner helped her 13–14 girls team to a seventh-place finish at the USATF Nationals in Paris, Kentucky, recently (Photos courtesy Janica Watts)

By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]

Unstoppable: that’s been the theme for the Race Cats programs the past two seasons, based on the Bethany Hamilton documentary of the same title. 

Race Cats Herriman/South Jordan coach Caisa Brown said her favorite line from that show is when the young surfer—who had her arm severed by a shark—said, “I don’t need easy. I just need possible.” 

The Race Cats Elite team from Draper learned a little bit more about that concept when they took 39 runners to the USATF National Junior Olympics in Paris, Kentucky, recently. And, amid freezing temperatures, tornado warnings, hailstorms, 40-mile-an-hour wind, the Utah contingent proved “unstoppable.”

The 11–12-year-old girls team won the national championship Dec. 11, while South Jordan’s Kenny Briggs, who earned All-American status for the third time, helped the 11–12-year-old boys team take third.

“It was an honor that we could go and competed and bond,” Briggs said. “And, I was aiming for my third hat [given to All-American recipients].

South Jordan’s Breelyssa Leeper and Saylor Warner were also part of the 13–14 girls who placed seventh at nationals.

“It was pretty hard to run in the windy and muddy conditions, but we kept pushing each other,” Leeper said. “I just kept focusing on my two teammates ahead of me and trying to motivate myself.”

“Running in the mud was such a party that brought a whole other level to the race,” Warner said. “It was pretty intense as we were worried about not slipping, but it was incredible and so much fun.”

Race Cats Draper head coach Michele Brinkerhoff said: “Every single athlete finished the race, even though some had severe trauma and anxiety from the natural disasters. We are so proud of them. They travel from all over to compete and train together, sacrificing so much to be part of something special. And they are so special and deserve to be recognized for it.”

Brown’s Herriman/South Jordan Race Cats team attended AAU Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early December with South Jordan’s Bennett Kasallis, Davis Kasallis, Quentin Kasallis and Avery Grover competing against the best in the country.

“Our Race Cats cheer is, ‘Have Fun! Work Hard! Dream Big!’” Brown said. “We are so proud of the kids that chose to compete at national level meets this season and feel they accomplished all that cheer is about. But, ultimately we hope that every kid in our program (on any of our competition or elementary teams across any of our leagues) learned and was inspired to have fun, work hard and dream big in running and in life!”

Briggs, the son of Joshua and Priscilla Briggs of South Jordan, who is a seventh grader at Mountain Creek Middle School, said he runs to clear his mind of life’s stresses and typically logs up to 25 miles a week. “I’ve learned some things about how hard I can push and I can do a lot more than I think I can,” he said.

Leeper, daughter of Steve and Becca Leeper of South Jordan, feels that the sport has helped her tremendously with her dyslexia and ADHA struggles. “Running has let me get my emotions out and do whatever I want,” said the eighth grader at Mountain Creek Middle, who is also a swimmer. “It’s also given me a ton of confidence and I have done so much better in school.”

Warner, the daughter of Clint Warner and Janica Watts of South Jordan who attends eighth grade at South Jordan Middle School, has grown stronger mentally since taking up running a few years ago. “I love how hard running is and how rewarding it is all at the same time,” she said. “I love the finish line. You are so proud that you did it. Anyone can run; you just have to know you can keep going without dying.”

 “I hope that through Race Cats we can teach so many kids what they are capable of and how much is possible for them,” Brown said. “Whether they place at a national level meet or cross the finish line last at one of our local meets, they can be unstoppable by working hard, having fun and dreaming big in their own individual way.”