"This season has taught me how to keep pushing, no matter how tough anything gets. I'll never stop pushing." -- Taylor Banks
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By Cory Mull - MileSplit USA
Had everything gone to plan, this weekend would have marked Taylor Banks' swan song at the USA Track and Field Junior National Championships in Miramar, Florida -- his home town.
But grand aspirations, as we've come to know, don't always meet the reality we expect of them.
Sometimes, life's setbacks get in the way.
And for a few short seconds two weeks ago, the Miramar (FL) High School graduate was on his way toward the most incredible win of his high school career.
Florida's top short sprinter was leading the nation's biggest 100 meter star, Matthew Boling, through 50 meters at The Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Then he heard a pop, and it was all over in a flash.
"I was mad. I was sad," said Banks, who had a level 2 tear of his left hamstring. "I really wanted to win that race and get my name back to the top."
However devastating that injury was -- in that moment -- Banks refuses to let it define him.
"It's kind of tough," he said. "But always got to dig in deep and tell myself that I have to bounce back."
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Tracing The Season's Steps
The story of Banks' senior season, though, starts well before his last high school race.
During Miramar's fall football season, the future Florida State University sprinter faced the first big injury of his career, incurring a high ankle sprain and a bruised bone. It kept him off his feet until January, a pivotal period that led up to the start of track season.
While that may have been apt time for most sprinters to recover, Banks didn't find any salvo in the timing. Florida's season started at the end of February.
Banks was the nation's top returning sprinter at 100 meters, and he knew it.
"I felt like the bullseye was on my back," he said. "I wanted to work twice as hard to maintain that."
But in February came another setback. He sprained his hamstring for the first time.
It was a crushing blow for Banks, who had set the bar high in 2019: He wanted to break 10 seconds for 100 meters; win Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida; earn state championships in the 100m and 200m; run in the low 20 seconds for the 200m, and make the USA Junior team at the Pan-American Championships.
His season didn't get started until mid-March, roughly halfway through Florida's spring season.
"I started to feel like I became overlooked," he said.
By then, Boling had run his first 100 meter race and had opened with a 10.22 second race.
Banks' start, meanwhile, was more conservative as he was building strength. He won the Miami Hurricane Invitational in March, though his 10.50 second time in the 100m was wind-aided. He followed a few days later with a time of 10.50 seconds at the Broward County Championships.
The times were good, but they weren't sweeping the nation. Boling ran a wind-aided 10.21 at the Texas Relays, then 10.11 seconds at his district meet.
"I felt like I wasn't the man in that moment," Banks said.
Still, he continued to work at it. He was cleared to lift his own body weight and focused on hamstring bridges to strengthen and activate his lower body and core. As he got cleared to train harder in the weight room, he added hamstring curls, squats and deadlifts.
By then, the future FSU sprinter was starting to build confidence.
"I thought I was going to get back to running 10.2s," he said.
In April, Boling ran a wind-aided 9.98 seconds as the race went viral. The Houston-based sprinter became a phenomenon.
"It was kind of tough mentally," Banks said. "I used to look at people running and would say to myself, 'That could be me.' But I knew long-term I had the rest of my season."
Banks, meanwhile, continued to run well, but other sprinters were grabbing more attention.
He finished fifth at the Pepsi Florida Relays, then qualified through his district and regional races, hitting a season PRs of 10.38 and 20.99 seconds at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami in the 100m and 200m.
He ended up puling the sprint double (10.69/21.21) at the state championships in Florida's highest classification, but he still wasn't satisfied.
"I knew I still had Great Southwest and U20s," he said.
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On The Road Back
Banks was starting to get lethal by the middle of May.
In the week before Great Southwest, he had an incredible workout that saw him hit hand-times of 8.9 seconds at 90 meters and 6.15 for 60 meters.
"I felt like I was going to break the high school national record," he said. "I knew my competition had strong finishes, so I knew I had to work on the second part of my race.
"I basically had to come in with a perfect race plan."
In the air toward Albuquerque, Banks had a window seat and as he looked below toward the endless ranges of New Mexico, he continued to think about his goals. He accomplished at least one of them. Maybe he could get another.
"I knew Matthew had a great finish and great stride length," he said. "But I knew my top end and my turnover was my weapon. So I knew if I had that over him, I would finish strong."
On the starting line in Albuquerque, Banks still felt like he wasn't being talked about.
But as the gun went off, Banks was the first man out and exploded toward the front. His drive positioned him out of the field well. He was a few strides over Boling through 30 meters. As he was beginning to stand up, he still had an advantage.
Then it happened.
"I felt a pop," he said. "I thought to myself, 'I never felt that before. That's not good.' I couldn't move at all."
Banks fell back and had to get helped off the track.
A New Path Emerges
Banks knows his season was left a little unresolved. His plan was to head to orientation in Tallahassee this week at Florida State, then fly back to Miramar to compete at U20s.
Ultimately, that plan has changed.
Still, he knows his future is bright. He's got four more years to prove he can be the man.
He's joining a Seminoles team that contains one of the best sprint crews in the United States -- a series of signings and transfers, including Hinds CC's Terrance Laird, will make Florida State potent in 2020.
"That type of talent," Banks says, "speaks for itself."
"Iron sharpens iron. We'll get better training with each other."
And Banks continues to have high aspirations. In college, he'll have new dreams and new goals.
"This season has taught me how to keep pushing, no matter how tough anything gets," he said. "I'll never stop pushing."
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Contact MileSplit USA's Cory Mull at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bycorymull