Ward to participate in USA Track and Field Junior Olympics

Over the course of the 2016 season, the growth of the Rowan County track and field program was evident in many different ways.

A state champion discus thrower, along with the school’s first state point-getter in 20 years, proves that fact.

The program, however, isn’t finished making strides.

Braxton Ward, who routinely placed as the boys track squad’s main pole vaulter, plans to participate in the 50th United States Track and Field Junior Olympic Championships in the event later this month in Sacramento, California from July 25-31.

For Ward, as well as his mother, April, the invitation to participate in such a prestigious comes as a great honor – and a huge surprise, considering that the 2016 season was Ward’s first as a track participant.

“It means a lot to me, because I’m just getting started in track,” Braxton said. “To already receive an invitation to the Junior Olympic Championships is telling to where I can be and what I can accomplish in the future.”

“We’re really excited for Braxton,” April said. “He has worked so hard since March. He’s already two-and-a-half or three feet higher on the pole vault than he was when he started. He’s just improving every time he goes out there and participates.”

Ward has certainly earned his share of accomplishments.

During the 2016 season at Rowan County, Ward clicked off times of 2:19.14 in the 800 meters, 5:07.94 in the 1600 meters, 11:07.95 in the 3200 meters, and a third-place showing at the Class 2A, Region 6 Meet as a part of the 4-by-800 relay squad with a 9:20.92 mark.

To top it off, the all-purpose athlete added a high mark of 8-6 in the pole vault during the year, doing so at the 6-2AA regional meet to qualify for the Class 2A state meet – all while maintaining an A average in the classroom while taking advanced placement courses.

“Braxton’s an advanced student,” April said. “He takes AP courses at the high school. His GPA’s in the 3.75, 3.8 range. He has worked this summer and has saved $600 refereeing and umpiring games around the stuff that he has done with track. He’s definitely a good kid.”

However, Ward hasn’t stopped striving for success. And that has arguably led him to his latest opportunity.

In an effort to continue improving upon his track and field abilities, Ward has competed with the Eastern Kentucky Striders since the end of the school year.

With the Striders, Ward has shown out even further – as evidenced by his results in the Region 5 USATF Meet.

At the meet, Ward clicked off times of 2:19.90 in the 800 meter run and 11:09.17 in the 3000 meters to qualify for the national meet in those events

Then, in the pole vault, Ward qualified for the national meet by jumping a personal-best mark of 9-06.25 – besting his previous mark by a significant margin.

“I didn’t even think that this accomplishment was a possibility this early on in his track career,” April said. “We had no long-term plans for track.”

“I don’t think anyone in my family expected me to do that,” Braxton said. “It’s really been a great year.”

For Braxton himself, the credit goes to the Rowan County track coaches, which are led by Steve Cyrus and Shawn Thacker, among others.

“I have to give that credit to the coaching staff,” Braxton said. “They put me through plenty of training. I had to run every day.”

Ward’s work, as well as the work of others, have Rowan County looking for a big season next year. Eight of the squad’s 13 state qualifiers return for next season, including Ward, state placer Promise Cross, Hathlyn Chapman, Nick Anderson, and Vincent Harper, among others.

“It’s pretty exciting, especially since we will have plenty of state contenders next year,” Braxton said. “You have Kelsey Cyrus, Vincent Harper, Zeke Ferguson, myself and quite a few others. It’s going to be a good spring for us next year.”

“It seems like the program is starting to bring in some of those athletes and kids who would, traditionally, not have been a track kid,” April added. “It’s really growing.”

With the national meet quickly approaching, April and Braxton have formed a GoFundMe page.

The page, which is titled “Braxton’s Trip to USATF Nationals,” supports Braxton in his quest to pay the $2,000 necessary to head to Sacramento for the national meet. That cost includes airfare for two individuals and a hotel stay for the duration of the trip.

So far, the Wards have raised exactly half of that amount, with April obtaining $400 through the GoFundMe page and another $600 from a bake sale held in front of the Walmart just down the road from Rowan County Senior High School.

In Ward’s eyes, the support is wonderful to see.

“I wouldn’t even be able to go if it wasn’t for my family, my coaches, and all of the individuals who have donated to this cause,” Braxton said.






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