Earlier in the week, Kayla Bailey wasn’t sure she would compete in the 400-meter hurdles at the Section VI championships. On the starting blocks, she was determined to make the most of what could have been the final race of her track career.
After she leaned across the finish line, Bailey felt faint, a symptom of her anemia. As her blurry vision subsided, she looked up at the scoreboard. The thrill of victory soon swelled into an outpouring of emotion.
Williamsville North teammate Danielle Batz was the first to sprint over and greet Bailey. Coach Caitlin Triantafillou followed and a swarm of Spartans eventually joined the tearful embrace.
“I ran all the way across the bleachers in tears, screaming and crying,” Batz recalled a few days later. “I just couldn’t wait to go and hug her. I was so excited. We worked out together every day and it was so rewarding to see her win and make it all the way to states.”
In winning the 400 hurdles with a personal-best time of 1 minute, 6.41 seconds on Saturday, Bailey qualified for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships for the first time in her four-year varsity career. She will be the only Williamsville North athlete making the trip to Middleport this year for the two-day meet that starts Friday.
“She’s representing our entire team and she’s definitely the girl to do it,” said Batz, a fellow senior who ran on the Spartans’ 4x400 relay team with Bailey. “She’s always so motivated and so happy and I’m so glad that she gets to make it.”
The elusive sectional title was a triumphant moment for Bailey, amplified by the celebration with her teammates.
“If it was just me, I would’ve been happy,” Bailey said. “But it means so much more when your teammates are surrounding you because they’ve been the ones pushing me to work hard all season.”
Bailey also played four years of varsity soccer, earning first-team all-ECIC accolades as a senior captain. The Spartans lost in the sectional championship game each of the past three seasons.
“Soccer was my main sport,” Bailey said. “I played travel my entire life. I started with track to help build my speed for soccer. And then I found out I literally loved track. I have a passion for both now.”
Managing her iron-deficiency anemia was a challenge for Bailey earlier in her athletic career.
“I used to finish my races and be lightheaded and see stars and kind of half pass out,” Bailey said. “I started taking my iron more and eating more iron-rich foods, vegetables, kale. This year, I don’t think I passed out once. But I still get a little lightheaded after my 400 hurdles.”
Throughout the season, Bailey was disappointed in her 400 hurdles performances, which included a 10th-place finish at the ECIC championships. She contemplated skipping the hurdles final at sectionals to save her legs for the 4x400 relay.
“I thought our 4x400 team had a better chance to make states,” Bailey said. “It was a last-minute decision to stick with the 400 hurdles.”
Bailey regained her confidence by running a 1:08.91 in her semifinal heat, her best time in two years. She was seeded second for the finals behind Niagara Wheatfield junior Mackenzie Patterson.
“That pushed me to run on Saturday,” Bailey said. “I knew I could win. I just felt it. It hit me that I’m a senior, this could’ve been my last meet ever and I didn’t want that to happen. I just had to leave it all on the track.”
Bailey built an early lead before Patterson caught up on the final straightaway. In a photo finish, Bailey won the race by .09 seconds.
“They were neck and neck and Kayla out-leaned her,” said Triantafillou, a former 400 hurdles runner for the Spartans. “To drop that much time was pretty amazing. She knew what she had to do. She was determined. She came out attacking the hurdles and finished strong.”
Born in Singapore, Bailey immigrated to the United States before her first birthday. Her mother was a track champion growing up in Malaysia. The fourth of five athletic siblings, Kayla is the only girl, and the only one who stayed with track after freshman year.
A student council president with a 96 average, Bailey plans to study biology at Arizona State University and pursue a career in medicine. She does not intend to continue with sports in college, which means the state track meet could be her last hurrah in athletics.
“I’m sad but happy that I made it this far,” Bailey said. “It’s unexpected but I know that I worked hard for four years and deserve it.
“My goal is to PR again. I know there are going to be great runners there and they are going to push me harder. I’m not worried about placing. I just want to do the best I can.”