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Wheeler's Amaya Turner, IU recruit Maddie Russin train to break junior world record
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Wheeler's Amaya Turner, IU recruit Maddie Russin train to break junior world record

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Girls Track Sectionals at Chesterton (Project 800)

Wheeler's Amaya Turner, center, wins the 400-meter dash at the Chesterton sectional on May 15, 2018. Turner competed in the Palmetto State Games All-Comers Meet in Columbia, South Carolina, on June 20. It was the first competition she participated in since the COVID-19 outbreak started.

It didn't matter that Amaya Turner and her family would have to make a 14-hour drive from Valparaiso to South Carolina. It didn't matter that she would have to race in nearly 100-degree weather.

The standout Wheeler runner, who will begin her senior year in the fall, was simply thrilled to compete.

"It felt so good just to race," Turner said. "I was so happy that my parents traveled all that way just so I could get out on the track."

In her first competition since the coronavirus pandemic started, Turner notched a personal record of 2 minutes, 10.01 seconds in the 800-meter run at the Palmetto State Games All-Comers Meet on June 20 in Columbia, South Carolina. According to MileSplit, that is the second-fastest 800 among high school girls in the country this season, but Turner has kept things in perspective.

There haven't been the normal amount of recorded times this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Plus, she and 2020 Crown Point graduate Maddie Russin have their eyes set on something bigger as members of "The 800 Project."

"We're basically just a group of girls trying to break junior world records in the 800," said Turner, who has been training with a small collection of elite runners for roughly two months. "Coach (Courtney) Bishop linked us together."

Amaya Turner -- Wheeler

Wheeler's Amaya Turner is a member of "The 800 Project," which also includes Crown Point alum Maddie Russin.

Bishop, who is the Pike boys track coach, heads "The 800 Project." His idea to put together a dream team of standout mid-distance runners was initially started because of the success he experienced with former Pike star Elizabeth Standhope, who now runs at Indiana. Bishop worked extensively with Standhope throughout her senior year at Pike, and it not only resulted in her winning a state title in the 800 last year, she also set the state record with a time of 2:06.62.

"After that, between myself and (boys cross country) coach Lance Garvin at Pike, we figured out that we had the training for the 800 meters pretty well dialed in," Bishop said.

Russin finished second behind Standhope in the 800 at the 2019 state meet with a time of 2:08.23. The former Crown Point star's performance garnered Bishop's attention and also sparked his curiosity.

"At the end of the season last year, Elizabeth and I we were like, 'Wow, there are really a lot of fast girls in Indiana. Indiana may never see anything like this again,'" Bishop said. "And then Elizabeth was like, 'You know what? It would be really neat to run a relay with these girls.'"

Courtney Bishop -- Pike

Pike boys track coach Courtney Bishop

Since then, Bishop has tried his best to build on Standhope's spur-of-the-moment comment. According to his research, the girls junior world record in the 3,200 relay is 8:37.1. It was set by Jamaican quartet Charmaine Howell, Claudine Williams, Janice Turner and Inez Turner-Gray in 1991.

Bishop's goal is to have his girls run sub 8:30.

Their first shot to make history will be July 17 at a meet in Ohio that has yet to be named. Turner, Russin, 2020 Roncalli alum Emily Sonderman and Massachusetts standout Makayla Paige are the four runners who will compete in the 3,200 relay. Russin and Sonderman will continue their careers at Indiana, while Paige — who has won back-to-back Gatorade Massachusetts Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year awards — still has one year left in her prep career.

Girls Track Regionals (800 project)

Crown Point graduate and Indiana recruit Maddie Russin has been training this summer as a member of "The 800 Project."

West Lafayette's Alli Steffey, who will be a junior in the fall, and 2020 Culver Academies graduate and Indiana recruit Marissa Rivera are also members of "The 800 Project." At last season's state meet, Steffey helped West Lafayette win a state championship in the 3,200 relay, and Rivera finished sixth in the 800.

"We're all training really, really hard," said Russin, who was one of two seniors named Miss Distance by the Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches. "Sometimes we drive to Indy, sometimes they drive here. We take turns. But yeah, we're all in really, really good shape. It's crazy."

Russin has already competed in a 3,200 relay under Bishop's guidance. One week after the state finals last year, Russin teamed up with Rivera, Brownsburg's Abby Lynch and Ohio standout Maddie Ullom at the Midwest Distance Classic in Naperville, Illinois. Together they finished in a time of 8:46.64.

Turner hopes to shatter that mark next month alongside Russin, as they try to rewrite history.

"I think it would feel pretty great. It would be a really cool record to break," said Turner, who has received interest from Indiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Illinois. "It would just show that all of our hard work has paid off."

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Lake County Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.

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