Having won race after race this season, Coahulla Creek High School's Kaylee Bandy is only a freshman but already a state champion.
Bandy won the girls 3,200 meters at the Class 3A state track and field meet on May 10 at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany, and though she runs every day to train, her talent might also stem from her bloodline. Bandy's grandmother, Holly Kimsey, is a runner, and also one of Bandy's biggest supporters. Kimsey picked up running in her late 30s along with Bandy's father, Chase, and has since completed five marathons and too many half-marathons to count.
"I think seeing us enjoy it kind of got her into it, and then she realized she was so good at it," Kimsey said. "She's seen how it's something we can do all together, and I think through my running is where she found that."
Bandy began running in middle school, but remembers not being into the idea at the start.
"In sixth grade, I really didn't try and I was pretty much just lazy," she said. "I didn't like it. But then in seventh grade, I started putting a lot of work in. I just decided if I was going to stick with the sport, I might as well try."
Bandy excelled throughout her freshman season, repeatedly breaking her own school record in the 3,200 meters. She placed fifth at the state meet in the 1,600 meters, with a time of 5:23.41. She won the 3,200 meters with a time of 11:36.16 to beat out second-place finisher Katherine Law from Jefferson with a time of 11:44.57.
To have Kimsey, as well as a group of other family members and friends, supporting her at the state meet meant everything, Bandy said. She ran the 1,600 meters on May 9, but was gearing up for the 3,200, in which she said she felt even more comfortable.
"At every race, I can hear my grandma screaming over everybody," she said. "After I started running, I kind of found out more about her being a runner, too. It kind of made sense that I've always been better at long-distance running.
"I was excited. I was really excited to see that finish line. Everybody hugged me and was telling me that they were really proud of me. I like all the support and knowing I have people watching me."
Watching Bandy cross the finish line in first place was something Kimsey said she'll never forget.
"I wanted to step out on the track with her," she said. "One of the guys told me I had to step back. It was an awesome feeling."
As an underclassman, Bandy said it felt good to be on top, but didn't discredit the work she's put in to make winning a reality. She likes to look at other times to see where she sits amongst her competitors.
"I've known that I was pretty good, but it is really hard," she said. "I have so many people pushing me and all you can do is push through it. It can seem a little boring, but I really never get that bored. I actually really like it."
Bandy is low-key before and after a race, and said it was no different for her championship win. She usually finds a banana or granola bar and drinks lots of water beforehand.
"I was very nervous. I usually always get nervous before races, but I still liked my chances," she said. "It's my stronger event and I was just ready to race. After the race, I ran a little more and then just stretched out."
Bandy said the pack of runners behind her were on her heels until about the sixth lap when she began to pull away. Many had competed against her during cross country season in the fall, but didn't quite know her strength since she was injured for part of the season.
Moving forward, Bandy might have a target on her back but said she is looking forward to making it back to the podium.
"They probably have me on their radar now," she said, laughing. "I hope to do it again."
And as Bandy continues to improve, Kimsey, now 53, said she can't wait to see her development.
"I'm already thinking about how we can shave a few seconds off for next year," she said. "I think I'm so passionate about her doing this because I wish I had found running sooner. We knew if she had that gene, she could really go places. I'm excited to see where it takes her."