Layne Needham had just run her fastest time in the 300-meter hurdles, clocking in at 44.79 seconds to win the Class 3A championship and end her standout career at Cheney with five state titles.
As she climbed atop the podium to figuratively and literally reach the pinnacle of her high school track career, she was met by the person who had been her inspiration, her idol, her best friend — her older sister, Taylor, who was working as an official handing out medals at the Kansas high school state track and field meet at Cessna Stadium on Saturday.
Taylor, who had won five state titles of her own from 2011-14 at Cheney, placed the gold medal around Layne one last time and pulled her little sister in for a hug as tears streamed down her face.
On a day where Layne won three gold medals, this was her highlight.
“She’s the best,” Layne said of her older sister. “To be able to win and then have her give me my medal, that really meant a lot.”
“I just love her so much,” Taylor said. “She’s my little sister and I know she’s out there breaking all of my records, but there’s no one I’d rather have do it. I’m so proud of her.”
Making it even more special was that it was the first time Taylor had been able to see her younger sister race at the state meet. For the past three years, Taylor has been wrapping up an All-American sprinting career at Southwestern.
The Needham family usually spends this weekend in attendance at Cessna Stadium, while following along with Taylor at the NAIA national meet. To have the whole family there to experience Layne’s best day on the track was special.
“Layne has always looked up to Taylor, first in high school and then in college,” said their mother, Kristy. “Watching those two up on the stage was very special and brought most of us to tears. We just love them both so much and that was a very special family moment.”
Layne started Saturday off by successfully defending her 3A title in the 100 hurdles, as she was the only one to break 15 seconds and won the race by four-tenths of a second at 14.93.
Her best race of the day, however, might have been her anchor leg for Cheney’s 400 relay team. When Needham took the hand-off, she was in third place and trailed the lead runner by five strides. Needham was able to make that up with 10 meters to go, then surged ahead to lead the comeback for Cheney to win the gold medal in 40.95.
“I just try to stay relaxed because you don’t want to strain too hard,” Layne said. “I just tried to run my race. I know what God has given me and that will make us get there. I’m proud of our team, and I loved wearing these stripes and representing them well.”
That type of determination reminded Cheney coach Rich Simmons distinctly of another gritty competitor the Cardinals had not too long ago.
“Layne is a gamer, just like Taylor was,” Simmons said. “When the spotlight is on, they both perform. It’s been fun to watch them compete over the years because they definitely share that in common.”
Knowing she needed just one more title to tie her sister’s five state titles, Layne had all the motivation she needed to run a personal-best time of 44.79 seconds in winning the 300 hurdles title.
Reviewing their careers, Layne won her five titles in her last two years — sweeping the 100 and 300 hurdles both years and anchoring the 400 relay — while Taylor won the 400 titles in 4A in 2011 and 2012, then won three golds her senior year in the 100, 200 and 300 hurdles.
So how do they break the tie?
“School records,” said Layne, laughing. “I got the 100 hurdles and then I broke her records in the 300 hurdles and 4x1. She still has the 200, but she can have that one.”
“I’ve accepted that she’s much better,” Taylor said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that I’m faster than her, but she’s taller and a much better hurdler than me.
“I never thought she would be here. She was always my little sister growing up, but now she’s this incredible athlete and even better than I ever was. Today was so cool.”
While there may be a sibling rivalry in jest, at the end of the day, the sisters are each other’s biggest fans.
And that’s what made Saturday so special to have both play a role in Layne’s best day.
“It’s a fun, kid-around rivalry, but I know they are both very proud of each other,” Kristy Needham, their mother, said. “And they both look up to each other.”