The Racewalker strikes again
Capturing a gold medal at the recent 45th Annual Legion Youth Nationals Track and Field Championships at the University of Sherbrooke was a walk in the park for Ayla Laing.
The Thorold Elite Track Club member won the under-16 1500-metre racewalk by a minute and half over her next closest opponent and shattered her personal best in the event by a whopping 54 seconds.
“I think it was because the girl who came second was supposed to be a second faster than me so I tried to get out and gap her as much as I could so I wouldn’t have to worry,” the 14-year-old St. Catharines resident said.
It was a big moment when the national gold medal was placed around her neck.
“It didn’t seem real. It felt crazy to me thinking of how far I had gotten after just doing it once and thinking it was fun.”
The Governor Simcoe student joined Thorold Elite at the end of Grade 5 and focused mainly on cross country and the 1500 metres.
“Two people at our club did racewalk and it looked really funny so I tried it. The first time I tried it I was with some masters (runners) and they were super welcoming about it so I just kind of stayed with it.”
It was love at first step.
“I liked it right away,” she said. “Once you get the technique down, that is mostly what it takes, and then you have to build up your endurance.”
The technique requires work.
“You have to keep your knees straight with your feet on the ground and try to use the mobility in your hips,” she said. “I still struggle with hip mobility because I was very stiff at the beginning.”
Laing competed at nationals as a member of Team Ontario. She was selected for the team based on her performances at two qualifying meets. She was chosen to compete for the province in racewalk and the steeplechase.
It was a huge thrill to be named to Team Ontario.
“I was really excited and super surprised.”
In the steeplechase at nationals, she came within one second of her personal best and placed 10th overall.
Thirty-one athletes from across Niagara took part in the competition but Laing was the only person named to Team Ontario.
Laing’s goal for racewalk is to make it to nationals again next year.
“I’m hoping to stick with it and see where it can bring me.”
She will be competing in the under-18 division next year and things will be a lot tougher as the distance goes to 3000 metres from 1500 metres.
“I do a lot of distance training which helps with my endurance,” she said. “It is going to be pretty hard to do 3000 metres.”
Thorold Elite coach Steven Fife has been impressed with Laing’s progression in the discipline.
“Ayla has made a name for herself as ‘The Racewalker.’ It’s one of those events that not a lot of people do and so it’s a little bit misunderstood and under-appreciated. It is a tough event,” he said. “Ayla now has to put her racewalking on hold for a few months as we focus on cross country training during the fall but she will get to do a few indoor racewalking events again through the winter.
Laing is hoping to qualify for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations cross country championships this fall after coming within three spots of it in 2022.
“Last year, I did get a couple of PBs and I medalled at one of the invitationals which was pretty cool.”
The cross county training will be beneficial.
“I will be running 5Ks now so that should help with walking 3K.”