Before reading any further, stop and think about what you were doing in the fifth grade.
That’s what grade Gabrielle Jennings was in when this amazing journey began.
Jennings, the standout distant runner at First Baptist Christian School in Slidell, is now a senior and ready to write the final chapter of one of the greatest track and field careers in Louisiana history.
She has 6,000 more meters to run in her high school career that concludes on Thursday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl LHSAA State Track and Field State Championship at LSU.
That 6,000 meters is divided among four races (400 meters, 800, 1,600 and 3,200).
Barring an injury or Jennings tripping over her shoe laces, she’ll win all four races and put the finishing touches on a career that seemingly has lasted forever.
How long has she been doing this?
She won her first state title in May 2009, eight months before the Saints won the Super Bowl.
But Jennings knew this day was eventually coming.
“I’ve been thinking about it all season,” she said. “Really for the past couple years, my last state meet has always been on the back of my mind. I can’t believe it’s finally here.
“It’s a little overwhelming, so I’m trying not to think about it. My last time running in an Eagles uniform after eight years is going to be an intense feeling.”
She’ll go through her normal routine on Thursday before making the trip to Baton Rouge.
Eat a decent breakfast.
Sit and relax and snack on fruit.
Pray a lot.
“Then whenever the time comes to race, I’ll just go warm up and do my thing,” said Jennings, who will run at Furman University next season.
And that thing is winning. She has won so many state championships in track (both indoor and outdoor) and cross-country that it’s hard for others to keep track. She recalls running in the 3,200 meters in the state indoor meet earlier this year in a race where she lapped all but one competitor in the field twice. As she neared the finish line, fans started congratulating her on state title No. 40.
It was actually No. 39, but who can blame anyone for losing track.
State title No. 40 should come Thursday, though, in the 1600 meters, a race that she is aiming to set a new state composite record. By day’s end, the LHSAA’s most decorated athlete will likely have finished her career with 43 state championships.
Making the weekend even more special for Jennings is that she graduates Friday, meaning she will have even more family members sitting in the stands and cheering her on at Bernie Moore Track Stadium one last time.
“It’s going to be really emotional,” she said. “I know the ride back from Baton Rouge will be even worse. It’s just going to be a whole different feeling. I will be happy and sad, but overall I’m just hoping I go out with a bang.”
If past experience is any indication, she will.
Just like she’s done every year since she was in the fifth grade.