SHS graduate and Cowgirls hurdler Taylor Gardner runs in the 400 hurdles earlier this May in Laramie. (Courtesy UW Athletics)SHS graduate and Cowgirls hurdler Taylor Gardner runs in the 400 hurdles earlier this May in Laramie. (Courtesy UW Athletics)

SHS grad Gardner overcomes injury to make NCAA return for Cowgirls

SHERIDAN — For someone who didn’t even know if she’d run college track at all, Taylor Gardner is doing pretty well.

Add a serious foot fracture into the mix and, ordinarily, success at the Division 1 level sounds like a long shot.

Gardner graduated from Sheridan High School in 2008, where she ran track and played on the Lady Broncs 2007 4A state championship basketball team.

After high school, she wasn’t sure if she would even continue her running career, even as an opportunity presented itself with the Wyoming Cowgirls.

“I wasn’t going to run track in college,” she told the Press Thursday afternoon. “I decided mid-June, going into my freshman year, that it was something that I wanted to do. I was totally set to coming to school at the University of Wyoming but I wasn’t sure about running.”

In the end, indecision didn’t matter. Gardner qualified for the NCAA First Round as a freshman for the Cowgirls in the 400-meter hurdles.

But then, her track career took another hit when a foot fracture forced her to sit out a year.

“I didn’t know I if was going to run again,” she said. “I sat out my sophomore year and came back last year. It was every athlete’s nightmare:

“‘Will I be as good as I was?”

“‘Did I lose it?’”

As she returned to the track her junior season, Gardner wasn’t quite able to hit times she set as a freshman.

She admitted being frustrated.

“Going into this season, it was a little bittersweet,” she said. “I was kind of worried that it was going to be the same.”

This year, she again struggled to find sub-60-second 400 hurdles times she wanted. Until, at the University of Wyoming’s home meet earlier this month, she finally had a breakthrough. Gardner then ran a 59.41 at the Mountain West Conference Championships, and got herself back to the first round of nationals, where she eventually placed 34th. She just missed out on advancing at the 2013 NCAA West First Round, which was held in Austin, Texas, two weeks ago. The top 24 make the second round.

“The whole year we train, coaches set up so that we peak at our conference meet, and I ran my fastest times ever at this year’s conference meet,” she said. “There are two weeks between conference and nationals, and the coaches were stuck because they can’t keep increasing our progression.”

Even though she didn’t advance, competing in Austin was a feat in itself.

“There were athletes there that ran in the 2012 Olympics,” she said. “The experience in itself was well worth it.”

Experiencing things like traveling the United States is as much a part of UW track as competing. Laramie weather usually cancels the one scheduled spring outdoor meet — it has done so two of the four years Gardner has been there.

“Track in Wyoming is very difficult,” she admitted. “This year marked the second time that I’ve gotten to run on my home track and it was cool because I was finally able to meet my goals at our home meet. In the same respect we get to travel to some crazy places, so it’s fun.”

Gardner just finished her undergrad work in physiology and enters UW pharmacy school next year, with a year of eligibility remaining for the Cowgirls.

For her senior season, Gardner said she’d like to lower her hurdles time below 59 seconds and make the top 24, as well as earn a top three at the MWC championships. She was fourth this year.

“Taylor had a great year, and the experience she gained this year at the NCAA first round will hopefully prepare her to make the NCAA finals next season,” UW head track coach Bryan Berryhill said. “She has an amazing work ethic and shows up every day at practice ready to work hard and get better. As a coaching staff we will look for her to be one of the leaders of the team going into next season.“

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Brad Estes

Sheridan Press sports editor

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