HARRODSBURG — Tayler Lowe is broken.
That’s the word she used to describe herself after she hobbled off the track at Mercer County’s regional track and field meet. It’s a situation she will address next week, when she turns her full attention toward collegiate competition and the rest of her life, but this week she is just trying to hold together long enough to give herself one last chance at a state championship.
The Mercer senior is among the top contenders for the Class AA¿girls title Friday at the state track and field meet in Louisville, and almost certainly the only contender who left her regional meet on crutches. Lowe has carried those crutches for much of this season while she has dealt with the pain of stress fractures in both feet. They have allowed her to take the pressure off her feet in those times when she isn’t practicing or competing, and that has allowed her to keep her eyes on the prize she wants most this week.
“Hopefully first,” Lowe said Saturday after competing at Mercer’s regional meet.¿“That’s always my goal.”
It’s a goal that seems to be within her reach. She is one of four Class AA¿girls who tied for the best jump at last week’s regionals at 5 feet, and her season-best jump of 5-2 ranks her second in the class by only an inch.
But it hasn’t been an easy season for Lowe, who is getting little relief from the injuries that first surfaced more than two years ago.
“I sprained my ankle in February my sophomore year, and from then on out I’ve had stress fractures,” she said. “I broke my (right) heel last year and I was out for part of the season, and I broke it again over the summer and then again now, and my left heel hurts now.”
Lowe has pushed through the pain, and she has done everything possible to protect her feet away from the jump pit.
“Since it’s both of them, I’m trying to just keep as much weight off as possible,”¿she said.
That rule applied in Lowe’s second event, the discus, where she finished fifth at the regional even though she hadn’t practiced in about six weeks — and it even applied Saturday at the Mercer prom, where dancing wasn’t part of her plans for the evening.
“Tonight at prom, I’m going to walk in and sit down,” she said Saturday. “I sit everywhere I go. (Mercer) coach (Mark) Dunn, every time he sees me at school, if I’m standing up, he tells me to sit down. I don’t stand much, but it seems like every time I stand up he shows up.”
Lowe’s regimen of therapy also includes keeping her feet in buckets of ice water during a weightlifting class she takes at school, and she’ll probably practice only once this week.
“I’ll just do five-step approaches, little things just to keep (the)¿muscle memory so I remember what I’m doing,” she said.
As badly as Lowe wants to win a state championship, she also wants to make sure she’s ready for next season, when she’ll be on the team at Morehead State.
“I’m going to stop high jumping right now until next spring. I’m going to take a break,” she said. “This summer, I guess I’ll swim and swim, and maybe bike.”
There was a tone of disdain in Lowe’s voice when she spoke of swimming — “I don’t like to put my head under water”¿— but she said swimming and biking keep her in shape with minimal impact on her heels.
She said it’s important that she heal not only for next season, but also so the injuries won’t keep her from being active for the rest of her life.
“I¿want to figure out what’s going on. I figure something has to be going on with me that’s making my bones weaker, because I¿want to build my bone density,” Lowe said. “I’ve done cross country in the past and I’m terrible at it, but to stay in shape, I want to be able to just go out and jog. I¿don’t want to be restricted. When I’m 40, I want to be able to go jog a few miles.”
Lowe has covered many miles since she first tried the high jump as a second-grader, clearing 3-6 or 3-8 at the meets where her mother, Bobbie Crace, a former high jumper, coached. She first competed as a sixth-grader, and she has qualified for five straight state meets since transferring from Fairview to Mercer prior to her eighth-grade year.
She won a handful of invitational titles in that eighth-grade year, when she cleared 4-11. She tied for fourth place at the state meet as a freshman, and last season she won her first regional title and finished seventh at state.
Her big achievement this season was setting a personal record at the April 28 Eastern Relays, held at the same University of Louisville track where the state meet will be contested.
“That’s the first time I’ve jumped any higher than 4-10 on Louisville’s track,” Lowe said.
Lowe is looking forward to moving on to Morehead, which isn’t far from her native Boyd County.
“It’s not the mountains, but it’s about as close as you can get,” she said. “The first visit I (took), it was just perfect.”
But she said her high school years have gone by surprisingly quickly.
“It’s done already,” Lowe said. “It just seems like yesterday I was just happy to get to go to state in eighth grade — ‘Oh my gosh, I get to go to state!’ — and just go to have fun. But I’m excited I get to do it next year, just because I hope to have better seasons when I’m not broken.”