Running one event in track and field for the UofA is a feat in and of itself and can put someone into an elite category if they can excel at the event. Running seven and excelling at all of them is almost unheard of. Razorback heptathlete Taliyah Brooks is making people listen.
“Taliyah is the consummate competitor,” head coach Lance Harter said. “I don’t care what the challenge is, she’s going to answer it. That’s what makes her a great athlete. She rises to the challenge in each and every event. If she does have a setback, she has an amazing poise about her that she’s able to keep focused and her wits about her. We are very blessed to have her on our team.”
A freshman All-American, Brooks opened up the 2016 outdoor season in the heptathlon by scoring a new personal best with 5,991 points. The sophomore was first in the 100-meter hurdles and high jump, which she said are two of her favorite events.
The seven events of the heptathlon include the 200-meter run, 800-meter run, 100-meter hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put and javelin.
The heptathlon has come naturally to Brooks ever since she was young. As a high school athlete, Brooks was a state medalist in the 100-meter hurdles and was the Texas Relays long jump champion.
“When I was younger, I was always good at the 800 and the hurdles and I always did the high jump and long jump,” Brooks said. “One day someone told my parents, ‘Oh she should do the multi,’ and we had no idea what it was but it fit me perfectly because I could do so many events.”
Brooks’ versatility and talent, while some has come naturally, has also been a product of the ingenuity behind the various training regimens heptathletes go through.
“We have to work on everything throughout the week,” Brooks said. “We hurdle probably 2 to 3 times a week, and we’ll pair it with a field event and a throw. Everyday we are doing something different. We run 2-3 times a week and mix it up, doing distance one day and sprints one day. There’s a lot of thought put into it by the coaches and it requires a lot of work.”
With seven events, there are bound to be some that aren’t a favorite among the multi athletes. For Brooks, it involves the event that she has had the least practice with.
“Personally, the javelin,” Brooks said about her most difficult event. “It’s very technical and I didn’t do it in high school.”
That hasn’t stopped Brooks or the other Razorback heptathletes from putting up big numbers at meets.
Five heptathletes for Arkansas finished in the top 11 at the Texas Relays this season, with three of them sweeping the top three spots. Sophomore Payton Stumbaugh finished second behind Brooks, only trailing the All-American by six points. Senior Alex Gochenour finished third.
The team has had so much success that the heptathlon has become one of the highest-scoring events for the Razorbacks during meets.
“We pretty much stay positive with one another,” Brooks said. “We know all the hard work that goes into it and we know we are all good at it. At practice, we just push each other and the coaches try to stay positive with us so that when we go into meets we are just having fun and not worried about needing to do this or having to do that. We just have fun and the results end up showing for themselves.”
Even though they support each other in practices and meets, the five heptathletes are still competing for that top spot and that competitiveness is evident in the results each week.
For the coaches, there is not much to worry about when dealing with a heptathlete squad that is so motivated and extraordinary. In fact, the most challenging part about dealing with these athletes is being able to keep them in style.
“I will say this, they are expensive,” Harter said. “Trying to buy all the different shoes they require, I mean there is a high jump shoe, a sprint spike, a throwing show, a javelin boot and a long jump shoe plus racing and distance spikes. They travel heavy and have lots of equipment.”
Although she has plenty of equipment, Brooks is able to stay light on her feet.
“There always is a competition,” Brooks said. “We compete in practice so we know when we get to a track meet if there’s not anyone else there we’ll have our teammates to help push us. We know we can come to each other when we need help but we also know there is someone else on our team that can push us and that we constantly try to beat.”