All athletes feel nerves. The best ones just handle them better.
South Central high jumper Sydney Payne doesn't try to overcome the jitters, she makes them work for her.
"I'm always really nervous when I get there," Payne said. "I feel so wired. I use the adrenaline to drive me, to motivate myself to get better. It really pushes me."
For the second straight year, Payne channeled her energy to win the Chesterton Sectional, clearing a personal-best 5 feet, 3 inches.
"Last year, I wasn't really expecting it. It was a surprise," Payne said. "This year, there was a lot more pressure. I knew I was up against a lot of the same girls. I didn't know if I would be able to do it again. I'd only been clearing 5-feet regularly, so I was really happy."
Payne first tried high jumping in seventh grade, when the event piqued her curiosity. While she's not blessed with extraordinary height — she stands 5-6 — nor athleticism — Payne developed an affinity for the event.
"I actually tried throwing in middle school, but I've got twiggy arms," she said. "I remember when I made 4-6 and I was so excited. I just really love jumping. I picked up the form pretty easily, quicker than other people, and it just kept building. As I got more interested, I started to look up videos. I never thought I'd get this far and do as good as I'm doing."
South Central coach Rachel Werner recognized Payne's growing passion, but Class A schools don't have the luxury of letting athletes specialize. Payne was a regular on Satellites relays last year, but with more depth in the shorter races this season, Werner has been able to reduce Payne's work load.
"She's an excellent runner, too, and we really needed her last year," Werner said. "She prefers just to high jump — she's very dedicated — and I wanted to let her do that."
Payne believes it's made a difference.
"I really don’t like the running part of track," she said. "It's a lot easier when I have nothing else on my mind other than just jumping. Rachel's awesome, working with you on that."
Werner also knew Payne was one of several S.C. athletes with post-season potential, so she entered them in the Hoosier State Relays indoor meets. Payne placed eighth in the Class A-3A division.
"I think the early competition prepares the kids," Werner said. "It helps having that experience. Then when they go up against the big schools, they're not as wide-eyed. That can be overwhelming sometimes. Sydney's handled it all real well. She's a smart kid. She's got a good head on her shoulders. She doesn't let it get to her. If it does, she doesn't show it."
Payne finished eighth in last year's Chesterton Regional. One of several jumpers seeded at 5-3, she returns today with a different mindset.
"I kind of settled. I was just happy I made it. I wasn't expecting to perform up to the others' standards," she said. "This time, I've got a lot more motivation. I know I can do this, that I can possibly make it to state. I'm not thinking, 'Oh yeah, I'm going to place, I'm going to win.' It would just be nice to go to get a feel for it."