A couple weeks ago, we brought you a story about a regional cross country race in Ketchikan that was interrupted by a black bear. The runner who came across the bear was 16-year-old Taylee Nyquest.
“In practice we always say, run like there’s a bear chasing you. I was like, well perfect opportunity!” she said.
Taylee is a cross country star from the approximately 500-person town of Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island. We talked to her about how cross country affects her family dynamics, her relationship with the community and her perception of herself.
Taylee says it’s sometimes hard to think of herself outside of running.
“The running is not me, you know?” Taylee said. “I choose to run and that’s a part of my life. But I gotta make sure that’s not my life as a whole. And it is hard sometimes to not get completely consumed by it.”
Taylee put herself and her school on the map in 2012. She was a freshman, it was her first year competing in high school cross country. At the state competition in Anchorage, Taylee outpaced more than 100 of the fastest girls around Alaska and won state for 1,2, and 3A schools. People who had never heard of Thorne Bay heard of Taylee. Here’s her mom, Sheila Nyquest.
“She did wonderful,” said Taylee’s mom, Sheila Nyquest. “Being in Anchorage with all those people, it’s crazy up there. You know, you’re on the ski trails and there’s this mass [of] spectators.”
It was especially rewarding for Sheila, because she’s not just Taylee’s mother, but her coach. There’s no getting around it, coaching her daughter changes their relationship.
“You gotta pull yourself out of the emotion state and turn it into like a business almost,” said Taylee. “Because she has to push me beyond what I think I can do. And that’s hard as a mom, to see you going through pain. But it’s also to see the triumph on your face, when you cross the finish line at first, there’s nothing like it.”
“There’s always that thought – am I pushing too hard or not hard enough?” Sheila said. “And last week when she had an amazing race…I turned instant for a second into my mom mode, and I started crying.”
Taylee’s dad, Shane, says that during cross country season, running and strategy are all Taylee and Sheila talk about.
“You know, when the season comes to an end, I’m just glad we get to move on and talk about other thing,” he said.
Taylee is the only girl on the five-person Thorne Bay cross country team. Jericho Seiford and twins Austin and Clint Thomas are three of her teammates. This was their first season on Thorne Bay’s cross country team. Little did they know how fast their one female teammate would be.
They agreed she’s the fastest girl they’ve ever run with.
“We wish we could run like a girl,” Jericho said.
Last year, there was another girl on the cross country team, who also happened to be Taylee’s best friend. But her family moved. Taylee says that was really hard for her. It’s lonely being one of only three or four teenage girls in Thorne Bay. Running and Taylee’s faith have helped her deal with that.
“Running is a huge coping thing for lots of people I think,” Taylee said. “For me it’s definitely an out. You can be working all day doing homework and look forward to a hard run after school ‘cause you can just release everything. But God’s definitely been carrying be through all of this. I have had some difficult times.”
Taylee’s success has made her a mini-celebrity in Thorne Bay. Rob O’Neal is the principal at the town’s 79-student K-12 school.
“It’s huge, Taylee sets the bar,” he said. “Other kids are looking at her and saying hey I can be like that. They just look up to her so much. It’s neat for me because I have two little girls.”
With her mom as her coach and the town of Thorne Bay as her audience, Taylee says it’s been hard to not let losses get to her.
“That’s another thing about my mom being mom and coach,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like maybe I do let her down. But in the end, she loves me either way as a coach and as a mom and she’s proud that I’m just using the gifts I have. And so, for a while it was that way and it was hard to not make that who I am. But now we have a better understanding of how to separate the two.”
Running became so much like a job, instead of something fun, that Taylee took last summer off from training. That might help explain why she didn’t do as well as she hoped at the state competition this year. She got third place, and didn’t get the time she wanted.
Taylee has one more year of high school cross country. Then…
“I want to go to college to be a nurse, and then go into mission work after that,” she says.
Taylee says she’s sure running will be part of her life for a while. But after the emotional and physical pressure she’s been through as a runner in high school, she hopes to focus on other things in college.