Girls' Track Athlete of Year: Jenny Kimbro

Girls' Track Athlete of Year: Jenny Kimbro

CATLIN — The entrance to Catlin doesn’t call attention to itself.

A light brown sign welcomes visitors to the small Vermilion County town, sitting off to the left of Vermilion Street.

One drives past houses on the left and right, with vast acres of farmland clear in the distance.

It’s quiet. Unassuming. Doesn’t call attention to itself.

You could describe Jenny Kimbro in the same light.

The 16-year-old Catlin native can see the bricks of Catlin High School from her parents’ driveway.

She can find herself at the all-weather black track behind the school, where she has spent countless hours practicing and competing, with a short walk.

A few powerful sprints, combined with an elite hurdling ability that seems second-nature to Kimbro, could get the first girls’ track and field state champion in Salt Fork’s history there, too.

But the fan of the “Harry Potter” series — the final installment of J.K. Rowlings’ hit series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” is her favorite — who lists Taco Bell as her favorite restaurant isn’t in a hurry this afternoon.

Although she does have travel softball practice in a few hours, not to mention volleyball and basketball games with both Salt Fork programs on her schedule this particular week in June.

For the first Salt Fork athlete to win The News-Gazette’s girls’ track and field Athlete of the Year in the 10 years the honor has been bestowed, rest can come later. When, though, is a good question.

“She likes to be busy,” said Michelle Kimbro, Jenny’s mother. “We have talked about her not getting burnt out and have said, any time you want to take time off, do so, but right now, she enjoys it because her friends are there. It’s just as much social as athletic. When she’s not doing something, she sits at home and goes, ‘OK, I feel like I need to be doing something.’ ”

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Kimbro has already achieved plenty in her track career. In a short span.

The culmination of her work transpired nearly three weeks ago by winning Class 1A state titles in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles.

Her times in both races would have won state titles in 2A as well.

Not bad for a girl who just finished her sophomore year at Catlin and just received her driver’s license less than two months ago. Or for one who started hurdling in fifth grade because she thought it looked fun.

“In the beginning of that year, we passed around a little piece of paper, and we had to write down what we wanted to do,” Kimbro said. “I had seen other high school girls doing them, and I remember I put hurdles with a question mark next to it. I didn’t really know what they were.”

She’s now well-acquainted with the 33-inch hurdles she glides over in the 100 and 30-inch hurdles she sails over in the 300. Not at first, though.

“The first time or two I tried them, we put all the hurdles in the grass, so in case we fell, you wouldn’t get hurt too bad,” Kimbro said. “I was never really afraid of jumping over them, but my form was probably terrible the first few times I tried them.”

Improving and staying humble are two constants with Kimbro. She wants to run faster than her times of 14.71 seconds in the 100 and 43.28 in the 300 that won her state titles as Kimbro established Salt Fork records in both events.

The accolades she has already managed at Salt Fork have set the bar high for what she can do in her remaining two years. Keeps her motivated, too.

“That’s what makes me anxious about next year,” Kimbro said. “There’s always going to be people working hard, so I might not come back and do the same thing. I always have to keep working.”

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When Kimbro returned to Catlin a few hours after her two state titles May 24, she didn’t go boasting about the accomplishment. She and Abby Nicholson, a close friend and teammate who placed fourth in the discus and 10th in the shot put, headed to a nearby park.  

Word had spread fast, though, and Kimbro had plenty of well-wishers wanting to congratulate her.

“It’s not like I’ve done anything special,” Kimbro said in an understatement. “I don’t want to come off that way. My parents wouldn’t want me to be that person that comes home and goes, ‘Hey, I won state! Woo-hoo!’ It’s better for people to find out than to have to tell them. It just makes it more special.”

Seeking attention is not on Kimbro’s mind, according to her mom.

“She doesn’t want to ever appear cocky,” Michelle said. “She doesn’t ever want anyone to feel that she’s better than someone. She’s always been that way.”

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Kimbro doesn’t just excel on the track. She does so in the classroom, too, and has never received a grade lower than an A on her report cards in high school.

“I try to keep that up because I know that will be important later with college,” Kimbro said.

Colleges have started to take notice of Kimbro’s talents, with assistants from Michigan State, Minnesota and Missouri all reaching out to the family in the past few months. It’s a topic that should become even more prevalent if Kimbro keeps producing results like she has during her first two seasons at Salt Fork, but one Kimbro isn’t concerning herself with too much. At least not yet.

“That seems so far away,” Kimbro said. “I want to play a sport in college, and basketball and track are my two favorite sports, although I feel track is more likely than basketball.”

Kimbro’s performances on tracks throughout the area and at the state meet have caused her to transform from the bright-eyed young track athlete into one young track athletes now look up to and admire.

A year ago, Kimbro was in awe of Danville hurdler Alexus Jimson-Miller’s accomplishments. Jimson-Miller, the 2013 N-G girls’ track and field Athlete of the Year after winning the 3A state championship in the 100 hurdles, just finished her freshman season at Miami (Ohio).

“Watching her at the (News-Gazette) Honor Roll meet (in 2013), she just blew everyone away,” Kimbro said. “I was behind her, but she had a pretty good lead over me. I got a chance to talk to her. She was really nice. I don’t know if she remembered me. Probably not as much as I remember her.”

Now Kimbro is experiencing the opposite of that feeling.

“We got to the track to practice one day, and the junior high practiced at the same time,” Kimbro said. “There were three girls running through the hurdles, and they see me warming up. They ask, ‘How do you do that?’ I always looked up to other people. It’s weird that they want to know how I do stuff.”

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More might want to learn from Kimbro — who credits Gary Spezia, an area coach who has helped her with hurdles the last three years ­— in the next few years.

Topping what she has accomplished this spring might prove difficult. But she’s also accomplished in the long jump, qualifying for state in that event this season.

Have Kimbro pick a favorite between the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, and the shorter event wins. By a landslide.

“It’s just the one I’ve been doing for four or five years now,” she said. “It’s the one I practice the most. The 300 hurdles is kind of a love-hate relationship.”

Why’s that?

“During the race, it’s pretty bad,” Kimbro said. “There’s not a strategy to it. You want to come out of the blocks in a sprint, and around the curve, you don’t want to lay off but breathe more and get ready for the last 100. Then you want to do the last 100 all out.”

Doesn’t sound like much fun. But Kimbro is still enjoying her time with the Storm. And what is still to come in her high school career.

So is Salt Fork’s coach, Gail Biggerstaff. The boatload of medals Kimbro has already won in her first two years could double in the next two years.

“She’s the all-around package,” Biggerstaff said. “She’s smart. She’s humble. She’s great to all of her teammates. Just being a sophomore, she’ll take freshmen under her wing. I’ve had so many people come up to me that probably would have never said anything to say, ‘Congratulations with Jenny. Congratulations on having a state champ.’ It’s a fantastic feeling being on the map.”

Jenny Kimbro, at a glance

Why she’s the girls’ track and field Athlete of the Year: Won two Class 1A state titles in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles after placing second in the 100 hurdles and fifth in the 300 hurdles in 2013. Her two state titles were the first for the Salt Fork program in its history, and her times in the 100 (14.71 seconds) and 300 (43.28) would have won a state title in Class 2A.

A few of my favorites: Last text to Kalyn Learnard ... Favorite food is tacos ... Role models are my parents, Jeff and Michelle Kimbro ... Driving an orange VW Beetle ... Soccer is sport I’d like to try but haven’t  ... Likes to eat at Taco Bell ... Favorite entertainer is Lourdes ... Favorite class is English

Three things on my bucket list are: Go watch an Olympics, go bungee jumping and go to Europe

In 10 years, I see myself: Hopefully married and starting a family. I really have no idea what job I’d like to get into yet.

College plans: I haven’t really thought about college yet, but I’d probably major in English.

About Kimbro: “In junior high, she had to make the decision because she’s a great all-around athlete. Was she going to go out for track or go out for softball? I was honestly nervous she would go out for softball. I knew in track, she could win a lot of individual accolades, go to state and pull it off. Ultimately, it had to be her decision, and it had to be something she was happy with. She is an amazing athlete. Anything you ask her to do, she’s going to do it, and do it above and beyond. She concentrates so hard and is so focused.” — Salt Fork coach Gail Biggerstaff

Roll call
A look at the winners of News-Gazette girls’ track and field Athlete of the Year:
2014    Jenny Kimbro    Salt Fork
2013    Alexus Jimson-Miller    Danville
2012    Sydni Meunier    GCMS
2011    Sydni Meunier    GCMS
2010    Destiny Carter    Danville
2009    Dani Bunch    M-S
2008    Dani Bunch    M-S
2007    Laura Morris    M-S
2006    Johanna Wienke    Tuscola
2005    Mary Pat Choules    M-S

A look at the winners of N-G girls’ track and field Coach of the Year:
2014    Bonnie Moxley    M-S
2013    Jerry Hewerdine    St. Joseph-Ogden
2012    Erica Kostoff    GCMS

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