She could see the end only 200 meters away. As Jessica Jones crossed the finish line, she was out of breath and exhausted. This junior is a veteran on the Manatee High School girls cross country team.
Her experience and skill has helped her become the team's top runner this season.
Jones started running in middle school and was determined to be the fastest in her physical education class. After graduating from Martha B. King Middle School as a cross country runner, Jones decided to run on the MHS cross country team as a freshman. Since then she has become an important asset to the team.
"Jessica is our top runner; she leads by example and always has positive energy during meets and practices," said Ann Darling-Reed, who has coached MHS cross country for 10 years.
Running means everything to Jones. According to teammates, she is there to offer encouraging advice or motivational talks to pump up the team before a race. Jones has consistently lowered her times in 5K races and has influenced younger runners to push themselves when running. The underclassmen are eager to improve their times next season and many of them use Jessica's motivation and times to help plan their future personal records.
Sydney Britt, a freshman on the girls cross country team said, "Jessica influences me by making me want to beat my times like she does."
Jones said, "Running makes me feel happy on bad days, and it makes everything in life easier. I try to beat my time at each race."
The cross country team practiced five times a week, and it provided many hours for Jones to improve. Jones not only runs with the team, but she runs extra miles on her own and with friends.
Juan Gomez, a freshman on the boys cross country team said, "When Jessica runs, she never gives up and is dedicated to what she does."
Her devotion and hard work was rewarded when she was acknowledged as ABC's Athlete of the Week on Oct. 25 and later finished in ninth place at the Manatee County Championship. Two weeks later, after the championship, she ran a personal record of 21.43 minutes in the 5,000 meters race at the FHSAA 4A District 7, and finished in 10th place. She took her team to regionals for the first time since 2008.
After the regional race, Jones and the other MHS runners learned they had not qualified to advance to the state level. Even though the cross country season has come to an end, Jones is already thinking about her senior season because it will be her fourth and final year on the team. "Senior year, I want to break 20 minutes and hopefully go to states," Jones said.
Jones, who not only runs cross country, but also track, plans to stay healthy and injury free. Over the summer Jones will prepare for the next cross country season.
"Runners need to have desire, dedication and determination to succeed. Jessica definitely has those characteristics," Coach Reed said.