Cross country and track runners Adley Burkes, Kiley Murphy and Abigail Garner are three nationally-ranked athletes in Phenix City. As impressive as their achievements are, what’s astonishing is how much they’ve accomplished at such a young age.
Burkes, Murphy and Garner are seventh graders at Phenix City Intermediate School, but they’ve already gained attention at the national level. All three have competed at the high school level and rank in the top 50 nationally among high school athletes in the indoor 1,600 meters and the top 12 nationally in the indoor 3,200.
Burkes, Murphy and Garner are first, second and third in the 3,200 among Alabama seventh graders. Thanks to their efforts, the three have been selected as the Female Athletes of the Week.
“It means a lot that our hard work is being recognized,” said Burkes, whose 5:48.00 in the indoor 1,500 has her ranked seventh in the country. “To know the amount of hard work we’ve put in, it feels good.”
The trio’s running days together date back to elementary school, when the three showed out as part of an annual personal fitness race. Each year, the local schools would send their five best runners to face off for bragging rights. It was no surprise the three not only competed in these challenges but claimed first place more than once.
Those early races not only gave each a taste of the competition, they served as the start of teamwork which has carried them to this point. Each pointed to the other two as influencing their developments and providing a drive to reach their ultimate potential.
“We push each other a lot,” said Garner, who is 12th nationally in the indoor 3,200. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve gotten a lot faster.”
“It definitely helps,” said Murphy, who is 11th nationally in the indoor 3,200. “It helps with your times, because it pushes you a lot. You know that person and want to keep up.”
Last fall saw a new challenge for the three, as they competed with Central High School’s cross country team. Not only did the middle schoolers fit right in with older teammates, they showed right away they were capable of beating more experienced competition.
All three placed in the top 100 in the Class 7A state cross country meet in November, a clear sign they were up for the challenge.
According to Central coach Charles Fortune, the answer to how they’re able to do so well so fast lies in their attitudes.
“They don’t see themselves as seventh graders. They just see themselves as athletes,” Fortune said. “They have the drive that they’re supposed to compete with anybody.”
Fortune said all three improved from every race they ran during the indoor track season this winter, which leaves plenty of potential for the trio once outdoor track gets going. Garner explained right now they’re alternating between speed and distance work, trying to perfect the styles to be just as productive this spring.
The three have lofty goals for themselves. Garner, who Fortune said is considering hurdling as well as long-distance running, hopes to run the 800 in 2:30 and wants to turn in a 4:30 time in the mile by the end of high school. Burkes hopes to run a 5K in 19:20 and whittle her 2-mile time down to 11 minutes. Murphy wants to get her mile down into the 5-minute range and also take time off her 3,200.
Based on what Fortune has already seen from his athletes, he won’t call any of their aspirations unobtainable.
“I don’t see anything they can’t achieve,” Fortune said. “If they keep the attitude they have now and the desire to get better year after year, the sky’s the limit for all of them.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports