By Kyle LoJacono
Blake Cornwell is a hurdler through and through.
The Wiregrass Ranch senior competes in hurdle events with the Bulls girls track and field team, spending countless hours each week perfecting her form to not only win, but also to not trip and fall flat on her face while leaping over the obstacles in her path.
The irony is Blake has done exactly the same thing just to be a part of the squad during her four years at the Wesley Chapel school.
Blake started running track in seventh grade while living in North Carolina. She was given the coach’s award following that season and said she loved the sport from the moment she started.
Her family moved to the area during March of Blake’s eighth-grade year. Her mother Kim said the change in address put her daughter in a “dark place.”
“She went from a happy, easy-going, great student, to a moody, depressed, miserable child,” Kim said.
To further complicate matters, the move came about a week after tryouts for the team at John Long Middle, which prevented her from competing that season.
Blake was also unable to run track as a freshman at Wiregrass Ranch. Coach Don Howard, who also leads the Bulls cross country team, said he mistakenly cut her from the squad.
“I cut the wrong redhead her first year,” Howard said.
Howard and Blake both laugh about the mistake now, but it wasn’t even close to the end of the trials she would go through just to compete for the Bulls.
Blake tried out for the cross country team as a sophomore with the thought that the conditioning would help her develop as a runner. It did, but she came down with mono just before the track season, which, again, kept her from competing.
She finally got the chance to show her ability as a junior when she made the squad, but life wasn’t done sending her obstacles to overcome.
Blake was just getting used to running the 300-meter hurdles a few weeks into the season when she fell and broke her elbow during practice. The injury kept her out for several weeks.
She returned just in time to compete at districts, where Blake took fifth, which is one spot away from earning a regional berth.
Howard said through everything, Blake never gave up.
“She’s a girl who never misses practice, and all the work that she’s put in is starting to pay off,” Howard said. “She really wants it. She’s a testament to someone who puts hard work in and benefits from her.”
Her persistence, determination and fight finally paid off April 16 when Blake captured the 300 hurdles title at the Class 3A-District 6 meet by finishing in 49.24 seconds, a new personal record (PR). The championship also comes with her first regional berth in an individual event.
“My entire purpose coming into today was I didn’t want to be done hurdling,” Blake said. “It’s my last year, and I wanted to keep hurdling. … At the start when I went to the line I just had to get in the right zone. I felt like my form was bad, but on that last straightaway I just kept telling myself I’m going to get first today. On that last straightaway I made sure no one was passing me.”
Blake’s new PR is 1.22 seconds from the program record owned by Melanie Dean. Howard said her goal for regionals is to break that mark.
“Blake really has a chance to get to states,” Howard said. “She can take some time off her 300 hurdles. She had two or three bad stutter steps between hurdles today. She runs really fast between them. We’re working to get her over them without slowing down because she can definitely run 48 or under.”
Blake will have to finish in the top four at regionals April 24 at Leto to earn a berth in the state meet May 3 at the University of North Florida.
“I know it’s going to be one of the scariest races I’ve ever run,” Blake said. “There’s going to be fast girls. I don’t care if I get last place because it’s a huge step getting to regionals. I’m going to give it my all.”
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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