Woodlawn Runner Jayla Kirkland Goes Against the World’s Best In Poland

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As Jayla Kirkland runs around the track behind Hayes K-8 School in Birmingham, there’s no one else in sight. But this week, the 17-year-old world-class sprinter from Woodlawn High School competes in a crowded field of runners in Bydgoszcz, Poland at the International Association of Athletic Federations Championships (IAAFC). She wants to be alone there too – sprinting first across the finish line.

“I’ll be running against every junior from ages 14 to 19, competing for the gold,” she says.

Jayla’s time of 23.11 seconds in the 200 meters took first place last month at the prestigious New Balance Nationals Outdoor competition. In that same competition, she placed third in the 100-meter race. That kind of success paved her way from public housing to Poland as part of the U.S. national team.

There’s a key to getting there, Kirkland says: “I train three to four days a week. It takes a lot of hard work and consistency to get on the level that I am at, and of course, God.”

Jayla is an honor student in the Business and Finance Academy at Woodlawn. She’s hoping her sprinting propels her through college and a degree in sports management. These dreams took root back in seventh grade when a middle school coach noticed something.

“At basketball practice, my coach saw that I had speed, so he suggested I try out for the track team,” she says. “I did pretty good in my first meet and kept going with it.”

Jayla trains with coach Myra Hawkins, a teacher and former runner. As Jayla sprints around the track, Hawkins is on the sidelines giving instructions, clocking runs, and offering encouragement. Jayla, she says, is different.

“She pushes through even when she is not feeling her best,” Hawkins says. “There are a lot of students who come out here and want me to train them. They get tired and they don’t show back up.”

But Jayla is consistent, and the training will continue, Hawkins says.

“As long as she wants me to help her, I’m going to be alongside her, helping her, pushing her to make sure she reaches her goals.”

Jayla has her sights set on Olympic gold. She didn’t qualify for the 2016 games, but she’s already thinking about 2020 in Tokyo.