Story Photos Courtesy of Connie Roys
She's tall, she's talented, she's blonde...
No, I am not referring to Amy Acuff, the High Jump National record holder and seasoned Olympian, but a quietly confident sophomore from Medina, OH who makes the comparison irresistible.
Taylor Burke began high jumping as a 7th grader with a best jump of 5-00, and three short years later she has made a splash on the national scene with an impressive indoor jump of 5-11. The mark is an indoor school record and an Ohio state record. Already acting like a veteran jumper as a sophomore, Taylor is cool under pressure and insists on having fun while competing.
Taylor entered the sport of track and field as a sprinter, high jumper, and long jumper. She also played basketball and soccer. As an 8th grader Taylor cleared 5-07, set the middle school record for Medina, and all but cemented her future as a high jumper. It was during this time that Taylor began to receive some world class assistance in the sport. Medina's boys distance coach, Milt Place, told Taylor about a local Olympian by the name of Mike Caza who knew a little something about the sport. Mike is the owner and Director of Performance at Premier Sport Conditioning in Twinsburg, OH. Mike was an Olympian for Canada and also a 3-time member of the Canadian National track team, with a PR of 7-05.
Taylor credits her work with Caza for her 7th to 8th grade improvements, saying that the key was keeping her same 9-step approach to the bar as well as a consistent warm-up routine. Taylor was also older, stronger, and beginning to become more serious and dedicated to the high jump. Despite the success Taylor described herself as tentative in her approach during her middle school years as she was learning the sport.
As Taylor began her 9th grade year Phil Brewer became her events coach, although she still utilizes Mike Caza's Performance center in the off-season and during indoor. Brewer describes Taylor as an "aggressive athlete" and said that there wasn't much to change with her technique, although he did change her approach from nine steps to eight to take advantage of her aggressive and bold style, and explosive speed. Brewer calls Taylor a power jumper and that she possesses the ability to translate about 90% of her all out speed into vertical lift.
Taylor also describes herself as naturally aggressive and passionate about sports and says that her lifestyle revolves around competitive athletics. Taylor loves the high jump, soccer, and basketball equally, desiring success in each sport, but not necessarily individual success. Taylor is every bit the team player even in an individual sport like track and field. When asked what her favorite thing is about the high jump Taylor was quick to point out that it earns her team 10 points. She also competes on the 4x200 relay squad, but decided to give up on the long jump because the risk of injury was too great.
This attitude carries over to basketball and soccer as well. The varsity basketball team was 9-11 this year, but Taylor, ever the optimist, said that five sophomore letter winners will be back next year, and they would be ready to improve on the teams record. The Medina soccer team has enjoyed more success, finishing their 2008 season undefeated before losing in the playoffs to a rival. Taylor said that the loss was hard on the team, but they would be ready to go next year. In track Taylor credits her teammates and coaches for being a significant part of the success she has enjoyed. Taylor describes the high jumpers as a family that focuses and encourages each other. They keep the mood light in practice with inside jokes, and this allows the team to be better focused on their daily workouts.
Additionally, Taylor made it a point to say that Coach Brewer has kept her focused and excited for the challenges of the high jump. Taylor said that Brewer's "confidence in my ability" gets her focused and excited to compete at a high level. Before each competition Taylor sets a specific goal height for that meet and uses that as motivation and focus to keep her calm during the meet. Taylor also has a favorite shirt that she wears on the day of competition that her mother got for her. On the front are simply the letters "IIN" and on the back it says "Impossible is Nothing". Taylor added that this simple saying reminds her to believe that she can clear the bar in front of her, no matter how high it might seem.
As a freshman Taylor was getting used to high school competition and the change from nine to eight steps, but still managed to equal her PR of 5-07 in an invitational and cleared 5-09 in a dual meet. She was a favorite for the state title, but a nagging hamstring injury slowed her just enough that she finished 7th in the competition. This motivated Taylor to redeem herself at Nike Outdoor Nationals, and she showed up big, finishing in a tie for 2nd overall with a jump of 5-06.50. A big performance on a big stage gave all Taylor all the confidence she would need.
Fast forward to indoor 2009, a period of time in which Taylor predominantly competed for her schools basketball team. In her first competition of the year she opened with a 5-10 at the Akron Rubber City Open. Taylor was admittedly nervous her first time out, but tuned into Coach Brewers confidence in her and focused on the bar above her head. But Taylor was just warming up, as she won the state title with a leap of 5-11.
Perhaps more impressively, it seems as though Taylor then made the transition to outdoors, fraught with wind and cooler air temperatures, with no intention of slowing down. At her first outdoor meet, the Brunswick Invitational, Taylor cleared 5-10 and made several attempts at 6-00.25. According to onlookers, Taylor was over the bar, but "my timing was off and I dropped my hips too soon". She added that she needs to adjust her timing and hold the bend in her back longer, and that this will come with more looks at 6-foot plus bar heights. With 45 degree air temperatures on that day, it seems as though Taylor is poised for great things this year.
When Taylor discusses goals she is very clear about what she wants to accomplish. She wants to win the state title, set the state record (current record is 5-10), record a 6-foot jump, and win the NON high jump title. To keep her fresh Coach Brewer is limiting her to one non-invitational competition per week. Taylor said that since she loves to compete this will keep her focused on her goals each time she gets the opportunity to jump. In addition, Taylor said that she keeps her focus by concentrating on each individual meet, and clearing the goal height that she set for that meet.
Since Taylor is flirting with the 6-foot barrier as a sophomore it is easy to see Amy Acuff-like potential in her future. Acuff set the HS National Record of 6-04 back in 1993 and then subsequently became a collegiate star at UCLA and on the world stage. Amy set the collegiate record of 6-06 in 1995, won two outdoor NCAA titles, and qualified for the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000. Acuff set age group marks along her high school journey of 6-00 as a freshman, 6-02.25 as a sophomore, 6-03 as a junior, and 6-04 as a senior.
But Taylor has her own plan. She plans on equaling or surpassing her coaches high school marks in the high jump. As a freshman Coach Brewer cleared 5-09, and Taylor equaled that in a dual meet. As a sophomore he cleared 6-00 and Taylor has already had several close calls at that height this year. As a junior Brewer cleared 6-02 and as a senior he cleared, you guessed it, 6-04. An athlete like Taylor doesn't need much to motivate her, but you can bet that Taylor and her coach believe that she can achieve these marks.
Add Taylor to your list of promising athletes to watch over the next several years. If she has her way it will be an incredible journey, one cross bar at a time.