ALL-AREA GIRLS' CROSS COUNTRY: Gryphons' Browder discovered running early
By PATRICK MASON
Thursday, December 22, 2016
A young girl wanted to spend time with her father who was always on the move. So she laced up her shoes and ran out the door after him.
Rocky Mount High senior Barkley Browder first decided that she wanted to become a strong runner so she could keep pace with her dad. She was just 8 years old and determined to keep up with her father on his nightly jogs around the neighborhood. The middle child of five siblings, Browder figured running would be the perfect way to create some time alone with dad.
By the time Browder reached middle school, she became a constant fixture by her father’s side as the two chased down mile after mile.
“It was just me and my dad,” Browder said. “Me and him run all the time. We used to run more early on after it started in middle school, but now things are crazy so we don’t get to as much. But I won’t forget being young and just around the neighborhood, sometimes running six miles at a time and not even knowing. That’s our bonding thing.”
Browder soon developed a love for running, and turned what started out as a hobby into a passion for competition. Her long frame suited running long distances, and she burst onto the high school scene with a sub 21-minute time her freshman year. Soon, her future filled up with goals to chase down and barriers to burst through.
It wasn’t until her senior year that she became a force, a runner that opponents would look to as a pace setter.
The only problem was that ninth-grade run was as fast as she would get. Browder never posted a time faster than her freshman year time, but had a strong bounce-back year this past season when she won the 3-A Big East Conference title by more than 21 seconds. Displaying her staying power and newly-found speed, Browder held off two Northern Nash runners on the way to her title.
For her performances this season, Browder is the Telegram’s 2016 All-Area Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year.
For Browder, the conference race validated a season filled with unorthodox training. Gryphons coach Dee Anna Davis wanted to focus more on the speed aspect of Browder’s runs as the athlete already had a strong endurance base.
“Everyone else would run miles, and I would be off by myself to do one quick, fast mile, then take a break,” Browder said of her training sessions. “Then I would do a second mile at the same quick pace to work on finding that barrier. I just pushed myself harder and harder each time.
“That was something new this year. Mentally, I was more in it. When I was hurting I would slow down and give up in my earlier years. This year I would talk to myself, telling myself that I have to do this, and I’ll regret it at the end of the race if I don’t push myself.”
Those sprints in practice tested Browder’s limits. The goal was to run a mile as fast as possible, and take note of when her body wanted to shut down. Over the course of a few weeks, Browder found herself blasting past previous benchmarks. Then it all came to a halt.
The conference race on Oct. 19 came after Hurricane Matthew wiped away a couple weeks of practices. The meet acted as a measuring stick for most runners to determine where they stood after a long break. Most ran on their own outside of school, but the training wasn’t the same. But that didn’t seem to slow Browder as she put on a show.
“She ran really well,” Davis said. “Especially after having some time off, we weren’t worried about the time so much this meet as we were about feel. That’s the best indicator.”
The Gryphons’ top runner blew away the field and staggered across the finish line. She thought back to her training and opened the race on a torid pace, and left just enough energy for her to move across the finish line. Nothing was left.
“I wanted so bad to break my ninth-grade PR,” Browder said. “I was just 10 seconds off. I pushed myself more, and it was me leading everybody that got me into the right mindset. I pushed myself and didn’t hold back.”
She was hopeful that her performance was a sign of things to come. With the 3-A East Regional the following week, Browder figured she had a real shot at setting a new PR. The focused senior knew what was at stake, after spending the whole season preparing for this shot. She ran almost a minute slower, and finished 42nd at the regional.
Running for Browder has always been about the escape. Escaping a busy home for quiet moments with dad, turned into a personal quest to see how far her body and mind would let her go. As she grew older, she squeezed her running commitments in with other interests.
Learning French was a fun hobby, too, and it was at the forefront of her summer leading into her senior year. Browder went to governor's school, a six-week course held during the summer covering various topics. She spent more than a month living at Meredith College in Raleigh, speaking only French when inside the classroom.
She can read and comprehend the language, and is working on speaking fluently after just four years. She plans to minor in French, with a major in the medical field. She has applied to four schools, and is choosing between three in North Carolina, as well as the University of Georgia.
“The worst race is when you look back and you know you definitely could have pushed more,” Browder said. “I had a few of those races early in my career, but my senior year I didn’t have as many of those. I just tried to push it as much as I can, and I felt so much better. I can look to my future with no regrets at all.”
BARKLEY BROWDER, SR., ROCKY MOUNT HIGH: Browder won the 3-A Big East Conference title with a time of 21:29.00, more than 21 seconds faster than the nearest finisher.
MACKENZIE PROCTOR, SO., NORTHERN NASH: Proctor finished second in the Big East Conference with a time of 21:50.25 to lead the Knights to a conference title. Proctor was also the top area finisher in the 3-A East Regional with a 16th-place finish, and she could have a clear path to be the area’s top runner next season.
HALIE HUFFMAN, SR., NORTHERN NASH: The other piece of the Knights’ 1-2 punch, Huffman had a strong season and ran to a third-place finish in the 3-A Big East Conference meet. Huffman followed the conference meet up with a strong performance by crossing 26th at the 3-A Regional.
ASHTYN SCHRIMPER, SO., ROCKY MOUNT HIGH: Schrimper was fifth at the Big East meet, and she will be part of a talented, young group in the area.
SOPHIA ATKINS, SO., NORTHERN NASH: Part of a young Knights’ core, Atkins finished sixth at the Big East meet, one of four Knights to finish in the top 10.
MADELINE DALSIMER, SO., ROCKY MOUNT HIGH: Dalsimer was eighth at the Big East meet. She will be an upperclassmen next season and will be part of a talented group to challenge Northern Nash over the next couple seasons.
CAITLYN COOKE, JR., NORTHERN NASH: One of just 10 runners under 23 minutes at the conference meet, Cooke later ran an even better time at the regional 10 days later. Her senior season will be one to keep an eye on.
Mitzi Lopez, So., Southern Nash; Savanna Rocco, Sr., Southern Nash; Miranda Griffin, Jr., Northern Nash; Kelsey Hutchison, So., Northern Nash; Tatum Janke, Fr., Rocky Mount High; Mackenzie Harrell, Jr., SouthWest Edgecombe; Carisha Leonard, Sr., Nash Central; Cassidy Lee, Jr. Nash Central