Fort Payne eighth grader and soon-to-be freshman Madi Wallace etched her name into the Wildcats’ record books when she broke the school’s record in the 300-meter hurdles event at the AHSAA State Track and Field Meet back in May in Gulf Shores.
Wallace’s time of 46.34 seconds earned her seventh place at the state meet as one of 23 participants in the Class 6A event. She edged senior teammate Ariyana Neal by half of a second and was one of two eighth graders who qualified for the event.
Wallace had several supporters who knew she had broken the record once her official time was posted at the state meet.
“Once she crossed that finish line and her time showed up on the screen, her parents knew and we knew,” Fort Payne head coach Ashley Jackson said. “It’s hard to eyeball what her time was when she crossed the finish line, but as soon as her time came up on the screen there, we knew she broke it.”
The program’s 300-meter hurdles record time was previously held by Tara McElrath since the spring of 1990. 27 years later, Wallace was able to beat McElrath’s time despite never hurdling before this past season.
“This is her first year to do hurdles,” Jackson said. “You can kind of tell in practice when you know that someone is going to be pretty good, but then sometimes when they get out and have seven other people in lanes next to you, that can mentally get to you. That never happened with Madi. After that first meet where she ran as well as she could at Paul Bryant, we knew that she was going to be big for us.”
Wallace won the 300-meter hurdles event in 49.04 seconds at Fort Payne’s season-opening meet in Tuscaloosa. That time inspired her to continue to get faster and led to her shaving more than 2.5 seconds off of her time just two months later at the state meet.
“She’s so gung ho and doesn’t miss a day of practice,” Jackson said. “When you are that determined and work that hard, you know you’re going to be successful. She was bound and determined to break that school record. After seeing how close she was to the record in that first meet, she knew she could do it.”
Even in the offseason while many of her classmates are enjoying their summer break, Wallace continues to work towards her goals. Her and assistant track and field coach C.M. Sanford have been meeting twice a week throughout the summer at Wildcat Stadium to do several agility drills and continue to improve her hurdling skills.
Wallace is also using the upcoming cross country season to be even more prepared for next spring’s track and field season, where the team plans to have her run in the 100-meter hurdles as well.
“She has an incredible work ethic,” Jackson said. “She runs cross country with us, but she knows she’s not a distance runner. The most she ever does in a meet is one lap. She saw where Ariyana [Neal] ran cross country and it helps get them in better shape. So for her to come out and do cross country, it shows that she’s wanting to get a head start on everybody else who might be playing volleyball or doing something else. She’s just trying to get her endurance level built back up to where she can focus more on her hurdle skills.”
Wallace has said that her goal is to get her 300-meter time down to around 44 seconds by the end of the school year.
Her coaches are very confident that she can do just that.
“She never complains and always has a smile on her face,” Jackson said. “She puts in the work and does everything we ask her to do. If she continues to put in the kind of work she is right now, she’s going to progress to where she’ll keep breaking this record over and over. By the time that she’s a senior, she’ll make it very difficult for someone to beat her time.”