As Taylor Needham crossed the finish line on the track, she collapsed, but that was nothing new.
Needham had just finished the 600-meter indoor conference final, and just as she crossed the line, her body went numb. She suffers from Raynaud’s syndrome, which is a condition that restricts blood circulation through the arteries.
It causes her hands to turn white and severe migraines. She said in a 400-meter race, she often won’t remember the home stretch.
“My head is just pounding,” she said. “It spins, and I can’t see.”
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Raynaud’s is a rare condition that affects less than 5 percent of the population, but it is not unheard of — unless you are a national champion track runner.
Needham recently finished her career at Southwestern College in Winfield. In her four years after graduating from Cheney, she won an NAIA indoor 600-meter indoor and 400-meter hurdle outdoor national championship.
She is a four-time national runner-up, eight-time All-American between her indoor and outdoor seasons and holds eight school records.
“At Southwestern, I’m the most decorated female athlete in history,” she said. “But I don’t really feel like I’m any better than anyone else. I don’t get treated any differently at school or anything.”
Her sister, Layne, will be a senior at Cheney High School. As a junior, she won the girls Kansas Class 3A 100- and 300-meter hurdles at the Kansas high school state track and field meet. She came in third in the 200 meters and eighth in the 100.
She was among the busiest athletes at the meet, and by the time she graduates in 2019, there will be evidence of that.
Layne said she sees motivation to improve every day, walking past a board of Cheney record holders.
“I see it as a competition,” Layne said. “On the record board it says, ‘100 hurdles: L. Needham ... 300 hurdles: T. Needham.”
Like her sister, Layne suffers from Raynaud’s syndrome. Layne’s symptoms are not as severe. Taylor had to start putting coaches at the finish line to catch her in case she collapsed. Most often, Layne just experiences migraines and white hands.
For Taylor, the repercussions could — and have been — serious. After one race, she collapsed and had no one there to catch her. When she fell to the track, her head slapped the ground, and she suffered a concussion. Layne was in the stands watching.
Most times, Taylor is up again after a few seconds. This time was different. She stayed down for close to 15 minutes.
Taylor said she thought about quitting track because of the potential long-term effects.
“Sometimes it gets to a point where I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ “ she said. “But I also don’t want to just step away.”
At times the syndrome was crippling, and the migraines were mounting up. However, Raynaud’s is not associated with tissue damage. Cold days are tougher than others, but for the sisters, running has always come first.
Their parents both ran track and Southwestern. Taylor’s coaches were the same coaches who led her parents. That had an impact on her college decision, but there was more to it that fell back on Raynaud’s to some degree.
Taylor held Division-I scholarships from Wichita State, Missouri State and Memphis. The Cheney community was ready for her to take the leap to college’s top level and represent the Cardinals on the big stage.
When she chose Southwestern, she said there was negative feedback.
“Going NAIA in Southeastern Kansas is not what they thought I should have done,” she said. “But I didn’t want to go DI or DII and pass out after races and have people think, ‘Well, she’s no good.’
“People would tell me, ‘You could do so much better.’ They thought I went NAIA so I could be a big fish in a small pond, but that wasn’t the case at all.”
Taylor said she felt as if she would receive more personalized care at a smaller school. It came down to health.
It is about to be Layne’s turn. She has already started to talk with different universities about continuing her track career. She hasn’t started to narrow her options, but the important thing is that she will have options.
The Needhams are a track family. Taylor got into it because her parents did it. And Layne started after watching her sister.
The sisters have succeeded on some of the biggest stages in track. They have followed a lineage and overcome obstacles that some would consider insurmountable.
But for the sisters, it’s all natural.
“It’s been fun,” Taylor said. “It’s just kinda what we do. You just gotta push through it.”