Fort Payne senior Ariyana Neal finished up an impressive junior year for the Wildcats’ track and field team last spring.
Neal became one of the best hurdlers in program history.She recently broke the school’s 100-yard hurdle record with a 15.90.
Neal said she never thought she’d reach goals like that when she first joined the team when she was in middle school.
“I started in seventh grade,” Neal said. “I was just out running one day and a coach told me I was really fast and that I should try track. I tried out, made the team and I’ve loved running track ever since.”
Assistant coach C.M. Samford said she’s always had a great ethic since joining the team.
“When she came out as a seventh grader, you could see she had some ability,” Samford said. “Learning how to hurdle is a bit different though, and she’s worked really hard over the years to get better at it. She’s always been one to do extra workouts in the offseason, and it’s paid off for her tremendously.”
Neal was a solid performer for the track and field team until injuries plagued her sophomore season in 2015.
She said that the injuries gave her motivation to get even stronger and healthier.
“I think I was pretty good for my first three years,” Neal said. “I had some injuries my sophomore year that set me back. I pulled my hamstring, hurt my ankle, and injured my hip that year. Ever since then, I’ve tried to do everything I can to avoid getting injured like that again. I try to eat very healthy and work out whenever I have time.”
Head coach Ashley Jackson said Neal stood out to her when she started coaching at Fort Payne.
“When I began coaching, I saw how talented and athletic she was,” Jackson said. “She is one of the hardest workers we have. She does everything that asked of her, and she’s just a very coachable kid. She runs cross country as well, and that says a lot about what kind of athlete she wants to be. She’s out there running miles at a time just to get better, so she is already in great shape when we start getting ready for track season.”
Neal returns to lead a team that has consistently won and competed at the state meet.
Jackson said she thinks Neal’s goals for this year should be to improve her times and break even more records.
“Every runner’s goal should be to qualify for state,” Jackson said. “She just broke the record for the 100-yard hurdle. For this year, I think she could break her own record in the 100 and also break the school’s 300 hurdle record. I want to see her get her name on our record board. I’m anxious to see how well she does.”
Neal wants to become fast enough to earn a scholarship and compete at the collegiate level. She said that a few schools in Alabama and Iowa have shown interest in recruiting her.
“I’ve had some schools show interest,” Neal said. “If I had the choice, I would just like to run for a college in Alabama.”
Jackson said she knows Neal has the potential to earn an athletic scholarship.
“It’s really hard to get a D-1 scholarship,” Jackson said. “She has the potential though. She works hard enough to earn a scholarship somewhere. If her time improves just a little bit this year, I could definitely see her getting a scholarship. I feel like we’ll have plenty of colleges calling about her soon.”