For the past four years, Taylor Needham has spent the better part of her life with Carlea Holt, whether it be on the Cheney track and field team, at school, or just hanging out on the weekend.
They had trained together, cried together, won together, and they promised to each other to leave high school as champions. Together.
So when the migraines that have plagued Needham her entire life decided to return before the final race of her high school career on Saturday at Cessna Stadium, there was no way Needham wasn’t running, even if she passed out doing it.
And that’s exactly what happened. Needham anchored Cheney’s 1600-meter relay team and ran until she collapsed after passing the finish line in second place. She remained motionless on the ground for nearly five minutes, finally being helped off the track by officials.
An hour later, Needham was feeling better, perhaps, because she had just helped Cheney to its first state championship since 1990 with 69 points — 30 of which came from her three individual titles in the 100, 200, and 300 hurdles.
“I’m kind of a cry baby,” Holt said. “When she was passed out on the track and they carried her over, I was almost crying. She’s my teammate and she’s such a huge help to this team. It’s a big deal for me that I got to run with her for four years of high school.”
Needham said she had an inkling of the migraine’s return after winning the 200 title. Thirty minutes before the 1600 relay, her suspicions had been confirmed.
“She came over and told me that it’s as bad as it’s ever been,” Cheney coach Rich Simmons said. “She kind of anticipated that she was going to collapse at the end. We just trusted that the adrenaline would get her around because it always has before.”
Maybe on some other team with some other teammates, Needham would have taken her three state championships and gone home. But not these ones at Cheney.
She was committed.
“She is such a super stud,” Holt said. “I knew she wasn’t feeling too well, but I wasn’t worried because this was not her first headache. She can handle it.”
There was still a distant possibility that Garden Plain could sneak up to win the team title, so Needham didn’t want to leave anything to chance. This was the state title her and Holt had dreamed of and it was right there for the taking.
So she took it.
“I really wanted to run that last race,” Needham said. “I knew I probably wouldn’t do very well, but I wanted to finish the race to help the team. I love them and I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
It was the perfect ending to Needham’s career, which already had two 400 state titles to its credit.
Needham won two of her titles — the 100 and the 300 hurdles — by a combined three-hundredths of a second. She won a neck-and-neck battle in the 100 with a lean at the finish line to win in 12.65, and then barely held onto the lead she established early in the race to win the 300 hurdles in 45.33.
“It was really nerve-wracking,” Needham said. “It was exciting to look up there on the big screen and see my name pop up first.”
It was surreal for Simmons to see an athlete to maximize their potential the way that Needham did in high school.
“She spent every day lifting and working out in the summer to get here today,” Simmons said. “You look at those races, and I doubt she was the most talented. But I guarantee you that she worked harder than anyone in those races. She’s the hardest working kid I’ve ever had.”
Cheney was bolstered by another state title performance from Holt, who won the javelin with a throw of 142-9. Teammate Allie Twietmeyer was fourth, while Sydney Peitz (third in pole vault) and Gabi Lavington (fifth in shot put) also scored crucial points.
Needham went home on Saturday night with her head still ringing a little bit and her body feeling exhausted.
But she went home fulfilled, as Needham and Holt had kept their promises.
They were champions. Together.
“This is all that I could have ever wished for,” Needham said. “It’s the perfect way to end high school.”
Northwest's Deron Thompson
Heights girls 400 relay
Andale boys 400 relay
Carroll's Ricky Sanchez
Maize South's Kassidy Johnson
Winfield's Josh Hanna, Riley Osen
Northwest's Mitchell Shurtz
Hutchinson's Jared Page
Hesston's Ryan Schadler
Collegiate's Jacque Williams
Trinity Academy's Tyler Burns
Medicine Lodge's Scott Beecher
Cheney's Taylor Needham
Inman's Krystal Miller
Caldwell's Tyann Isaacs
3200 relay pep talk
Carroll senior Nick Giusti, 5A 110 hurdles champ
Collegiate freshman Jewell Bolden, 3A 100 hurdles champ
Circle senior Talia Highbarger, 4A 100 hurdles champ
Berean Academy senior Gabe Holmes, 2A 110 hurdles champ
Andover Central sophomore Jordan Birch, 4A 110 hurdles champ