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Back on track

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Grandview Elementary student Ahniyah Bennett flexes some muscle at the AAU National Championship Junior Olympics in North Carolina. Bennett competed in three events at the meet, finishing sixth-place in both the 100 and 200 meter dash events, while also running in a 4x100 relay.
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Connersville’s Ahniyah Bennett, left, trains with Indianapolis North Central’s Ramiah Elliot. Both runners attended the AAU National Championship Junior Olympics meet in North Carolina on July 27 through August 3.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

Prior to the summer of 2017, 10-year-old Ahniyah Bennett approached her mother with some concerns.

A phenomenal sprinter with a world of potential in front of her, the elementary student wanted to tell her mom that, for the time being at least, enough was enough.

“She told me that she was concerned that she was missing too many things going on around her,” mom Courtney Hurst said. “She just wanted to be a normal kid for a summer or so.”

That meant putting running on the back-burner.

Hurst, a former athlete at Connersville High School, said that she understood that.

“She ran in the youth series here in Connersville, but beyond that, she took a break,” she said. “I was fine with that. I really didn’t want her to get burned out like many athletes tend to do.”

While on break, the youngster played basketball, swam, hung around with friends, and did what typical kids her age do.

But as talented as Bennett is, the competitive fire inside her only dimmed. It was never fully extinguished.

By March of this year, that fire was back to a blaze, placing her back on the track.

“She knew that coming back from that long of a break meant that she was going to have to work extremely hard,” Hurst said.

Not only did the now-11 year old realize that, she did something about it, putting in the work.

It definitely paid off.

After qualifying for the AAU National Championship Junior Olympics, both mom and daughter climbed inside the car and made the 8 1/2-hour drive to North Carolina on July 27 through Aug. 3.

Bennett qualified for the Junior Olympics in three events, the 100 and 200 meter dash, and the 4x100 relay.

In spite of the knowledge that she had speed to spare going into the meet, she was still lined up against some of the fastest 11-year-old girls in the country. As such, she knew that there just weren’t any guarantees at that level.

Her preliminary sprint in both the 100 and 200 settled her spirit and answered any questions she might have had, however.

Running a 13.26 in the 100, and a 26.85 in the 200, Bennett finished sixth in both races. As one of the top 24 in those events, Bennett was moved into the semifinals in both.

In the semifinals, a top-eight finish would give the youngster a lane in the championship run.

In the 100, Bennett wound up earning the last spot in the finals, finishing eighth in a time of 13.18.

In the 200, it wasn’t as close, as she finished sixth with a time of 26.71.

Making it to the finals in both events might have been a pleasant surprise for Bennett. It certainly was for Michael Vinson, her AAU coach for Indiana Storm.

“He said that what she accomplished was great, but when you consider that she was coming off a long break, it was more than that, it was amazing,” Hurst said.

In the finals, many of the same runners were in both races, as MeKenzie Rogers (Missouri), Sianni Wynn (New Jersey), Tamra Houston (Ohio) and Noelle Allen (Kentucky) lined up in both races. 

There with them was Bennett, who ran times of 13.06 (100) and 27.03 (200).

For Bennett, this was her fourth trip to the Junior Olympics, and in three of the four, she has reached the finals in both the 100 and 200. The exception was in her first year at the meet when she was seven.

In the 4x100 relay, things didn’t go as well, as Bennett and her teammates, Gabby Moore, Morgan Chestnut and Akailyn Hogg wound up 11th in their preliminary race.

Though the relay unit didn’t reach the finals, it did beat the Indiana Storm personal best mark for the third time this season. Hurst said that the foursome was thrilling to watch.

“I loved watching that event,” she said. “The girls had so much fun in that race. They were high-fiving and celebrating after that run. You could just see that there was so much joy between the four girls.”

That’s not surprising.

It’s that same joy that Bennett carries with her each time she leaves the starting block.

And it’s the same joy that is going to allow her to run to wherever her future may lead.