Father Lopez's Bailey Gillespy has returned to top form after fracturing her back during her freshman season, while UF commit A.J. McFarland looks to finish strong.
It was too high, too soon, Bailey Gillespy says. She didn’t have the training, the experience. And double-dipping the high jump with a foray into club volleyball didn’t help either.
The result was that Gillespy — then a freshman at Father Lopez — suffered a stress fracture in two places in her L5 vertebrae. She spent four months in a back brace and another two mired in physical therapy.
“It was extremely frustrating, mostly because I knew that I could get better, and I wanted to be training, and I wanted to be challenging myself,” Gillespy said. “But I couldn’t. I could only watch, imagine what I could be doing and watch everyone else do it.”
But back on the track, she didn’t watch idly.
“She’s such a competitor,” Father Lopez track coach Suzanne O’Malley said. “She knew that she had another three years with this team. She would be out on the sidelines every day, helping coach, helping me get times for some of the athletes.”
Now, more than a year removed from her injury, Gillespy — whose two sisters and a cousin also ran at the Daytona Beach catholic school — is turning heads with times of her own.
At Friday’s 1A, District 6 meet she won three gold medals, placing first in the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, and as a member of the Green Wave’s 4x100 relay team. Father Lopez finished third in the girls’ meet.
“I like high jump because it’s very mental, which has its pros and cons,” Gillespy said. “It’s all about the technique and what’s going on in your head. In hurdles, “you don’t have time to think, it’s just instincts.”
After a brush with serious injury, she’s savvy enough to listen to her body.
“I’m very careful now, I always warm up really well,” she said. “If anything is off, I roll it out, I stretch, I take it careful.”
UF recruit McFarland leads Lopez boys to first title in 27 years
A.J. McFarland did a little web surfing leading up to Friday’s meet. The site? Flrunners.com. His query? All-time meet records in the discus and shot put.
“I came out with the idea of a double meet record,” said McFarland, whose 172-foot discus throw helped propel the Green Wave to its first district title in 27 years. “I came out with one, but I’m pretty happy with the (personal record) in both.”
Friday wasn’t the instance that saw McFarland being proactive with his career. Last year, he cold-called the Track and Field program coordinator at the University of Florida and came away with a scholarship.
“I contacted them with a very open mind with learning new things to throw,” McFarland said. “I went on an unofficial visit, then went up to the Florida State/Florida game on my second visit, and I fell in love with it.”
The Gators hooked him up with an AAU program, the Central Florida Gliders, who McFarland credits with shoring up his skills heading into his senior season. Florida sees McFarland as a natural fit for the indoor weight throw and the hammer. He may see opportunities with the discus as well, depending on how he adjusts to the larger collegiate disc.
He’ll report to Gainesville June 24 to start his career in the Orange and Blue.
The whirlwind of interest has picked up quickly for a kid who ditched baseball for lacrosse his sophomore year, and then dropped his spoon for the circle last year. If McFarland needs any additional motivation, he looks no further than last year’s regional meet, when he missed out on states with a fifth-place finish.
“Anytime I feel like cutting out a workout in the gym or cutting out three throws out here to go hang out with my friends, I remember, ‘do you want drop it at regionals or do you want to go to states this year?’ McFarland said. “I want to finish the year strong.”