Kendall Gustafson goes up and over the high jump bar at five feet, two inches. Credit Steve Galluzzo
It's been a trying season so far for Palisades High heptathlete Kendall Gustafson, but heading down the final straightaway she finds herself exactly where she wants to be.
After winning two events and finishing second in a third while pacing the Dolphins' girls track & field squad to its first-ever City Section team title as a freshman last spring, expectations were huge going into her sophomore season.
That was before she suffered stress fractures in both shins in January that caused her to miss seven weeks of training. She made it back on the track for Palisades' first Western League meet March 25 and has been rounding into form ever since.
As one of the nation's top track & field performers in her age group, Gustafson was invited to the adidas Simplot Games at Idaho State University in February, but she couldn't participate due to her injury. She posed for pictures, signed autographs and met the Olympians... but she couldn't do what she loves best.
It was really hard because I wanted to be out there competing, Gustafson recalled. I couldn't do any running, I couldn't even do any leg weights. I could swim and I used the exercise bike in the gym for my cardio, but that's it.
Gustafson will be trying to pull off an incredible feat at this year's City finals on May 26 at Birmingham High--winning four individual events: the 100 and 300 hurdles, the long jump and the high jump. For most high school athletes that might be biting off more than they could chew, but not for one as gifted as she.
My goal is to win all of them, and I think I can do it, said Gustafson, whose older sister Lauren ran the 800 at City finals last spring and now plays volleyball at Denison University in Ohio. It'll be harder because people know who I am now. Last year I just went out and competed, I was just another girl, but I've learned mentally how to take pressure off myself.
Her favorite event is the 300 hurdles, which she won in 45.16 seconds at last year's City finals. She ran it in 45.6 at last week's dual meet against Venice. She will also be trying the 100 hurdles this year in an attempt to make up for the graduation of Erika Martin, now a heptathlete at Wake Forest, who won the event at last year's City finals.
I ran it in 15.09 today, but my goal is to get under 15 [seconds], Gustafson said of the 100 hurdles. The 300 is more my race. I'm more of a long sprinter. So far I've run it four times and in one of them I banged my knee on a hurdle. I still have the bruise. Today, I messed up my steps but it's still my best time this season.
At last month's Arcadia Invitational, Gustafson put the shot just over 35 feet and had a personal-best height of five feet, 3.75 inches in the high jump on her way to placing third in the hepathlon--the only non-senior among the Top 6.
Gustafson topped out at five feet, two inches to win the high jump at last week's meet. She cleared 5-3 to win in a jump off at last year's City finals. She was second in the long jump at City finals with a distance of 17-2.5 and leaped 17-6 back in the preseason before she got hurt.
I was second [in the City] in the long jump to a senior last season, said Gustafson, who recorded a personal-best 17-11 at the Pasadena Invitational last year. So I should have a good chance at it this time around.
Gustafson ran the anchor leg on Palisades' fifth-place 4 x 400 relay team at City finals last spring but Coach Perry Jones believes the Dolphins have a better chance to repeat as team champions with Gustafson running the 100 hurdles.
She's an animal, Jones said of his sophomore sensation. She's just awesome to be around. She was one of the team managers for the football team. She's easy to talk to and she's really great at motivating her teammates. She's super positive and that rubs off on everyone else.
Jones hopes the early-season sidetrack won't keep Gustafson from peaking at the City finals meet: I haven't seen her accelerate through all four events yet. That's what I'm waiting for. I've seen her go all out in one or two, then tone it down for another, but when she can go from one to another full steam she'll be unstoppable.
Gustafson doesn't see that as a problem. She has plenty of experience to bank on. She won a gold medal in the pentathlon at the USA Youth Outdoor Track & Field Championships as a 12-year-old at Paul Revere Middle School.
I'm used to heptathlons where you do four or five events a day, she said. I get a lot of adrenaline and that pulls you through. I don't worry about getting tired, you just have to go out and do it.
There are no playoffs in her sport, but the time of the year to shine has arrived and Gustafson is primed for more PRs. League preliminaries are Thursday, finals are next week and the City prelims and finals and state finals follow after that.
First and foremost I want to defend my 300 hurdles and long jump titles, she said. There are five weeks left in the high school season and I want to see what I can pull out of it. How many events will Kendall Gustafson win at City finals