When Amanda Jaynes competes at the NCAA Championships today, she’ll treat her race like she has any other.
One against herself, for no one but herself.
“I chose to rely on myself and not the team,” Jaynes said, “because I was tired of being told I wasn’t good enough and that I wasn’t the person they wanted me to be.”
As those moments mounted the past three years and reached a tipping point during her senior season, Jaynes thought about quitting. She didn’t want to deal with teammates with whom she clashed. She didn’t want to deal with those who mocked her. She didn’t want to warm up as slow as the rest. She never had, so she jetted out front alone.
Jaynes sometimes broke down in tears, either with MSU head coach Dale Kennedy or on her own. When she needed someone else to talk to, Jaynes called her grandmother.
“Do you want this?” Jaynes recalled her grandmother asking.
“Yeah, but I don’t think I can handle it,” Jaynes responded.
“It doesn’t matter what you can handle,” her grandmother said. “It’s what you want. If you want it, you can handle anything.”
Anything included putting up with teammates whom Jaynes said snickered behind her back. Who rejected her advice. Who approached the athletic department, leading to Jaynes being barred from practice for six months.
Jaynes also wouldn’t change anything. The experience shaped her. It allowed for more focused workouts and forced her to think critically about her goals. Ultimately, it yielded two school records and a chance to compete in the 400-meter hurdles in Eugene, Oregon among the top 24 in the country.
“I tried not to hold anything against (teammates),” Jaynes said. “I’m not happy with how things went, but I am happy with how it pushed me forward and I hope pushed someone else and, or, anybody else on the team forward, too.”
It wasn’t until the end of Jaynes’ sophomore year when she began to set her sights on significant postseason success. She finished second in the 400 hurdles at the Big Sky outdoor meet with a time of 1 minute, .76 seconds.
The performance served as a touchstone for what she had already accomplished and how close she was to progressing. It drove her throughout the offseason, and when she questioned her commitment.
“That pain that I went through for every practice, the sweat, the out-of-breath, your-legs-are-falling-off feeling, throwing up occasionally because you run so hard, and I had that in my mind that I was going to do better than I did last year,” Jaynes said. “I would have to get through those hard workouts in order to get there.”
In the following year, Jaynes took that next step. Her teammates rarely could keep up with her as she routinely beat them by two or three seconds while running 300s, Kennedy said.
She won the 400 hurdles conference title in 58.16 and placed 16th at the NCAA West Preliminaries as a junior, four spots from a nationals berth.
“She thrives on passion and emotion,” Kennedy said. “Probably one of the more competitive kids in my 50 years of coaching that I’ve ever been around.”
Sometimes that drive contributed to a team rift. With 47 on the women’s team and three assistants assigned to other disciplines, upperclassmen hurdlers take on leadership roles.
Jaynes echoed what Kennedy taught her, but her teammates didn’t want feedback, she said. She skipped late-night team dinners because she needed sleep. Even warming up became a point of contention as Jaynes required a faster pace to get warm.
“I get the little mocking of like, ‘Oh, she thinks she’s better than everybody because she runs faster in the warm-up,’” Jaynes said. “That was never my mentality … and then no matter what I said or what I did, something was always wrong.”
She struggled to want to attend practice this year.
Jaynes tried not to dwell on what occurred. She prioritized trying to be a better person, but lamented that her teammates didn’t get to know her.
“It just felt like the attitude I had, the things that I wanted to do and the goals that I wanted, no one else strived as hard as I did,” Jaynes said. “I think that created some discord on the team.”
“There was a lot of envy about somebody doing really, really well,” Kennedy added. “I would say, yeah, there probably was some intra-team conflict and yet I can’t think of a time in my coaching career that everybody got along totally with everybody all the time.”
Jaynes suspected some approached the athletic department and complained about her, she said, leading to a contract preventing her from practice, weight-lifting sessions and even talking with teammates from September to March.
Kennedy declined to address why Jaynes wasn’t allowed to interact with the team. So did MSU senior woman administrator Camie Bechtold, citing privacy reasons.
Included in the contract, Jaynes said, was a clause restricting her from disclosing certain terms and who was involved. She tried voicing her disagreement, but that wasn’t considered.
“I felt so powerless,” Jaynes said.
“They said it was to protect me and protect my mental state and to help me be a better person. That was all I really got. But I never got why I had to do certain things ... (and) why I couldn’t go certain places. Because in my mind, if you’re trying to re-establish with a team, you have to be there. Just removing me didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
Bechtold didn’t answer directly when asked how much an athlete’s opinion is factored in and noted participating on a team is a privilege. Decisions regarding athletes’ status, she said, are made in conjunction with other campus entities.
“From our perspective as Bobcat Athletics, we are really invested in our student-athletes and what’s best for them and what’s best for our entire program,” Bechtold said.
“I think one of the things a coach has to do is be a really good listener,” Kennedy added. “You’ve got to hear what they’re saying and be able to try and act on that and let’s have an open mind, an open ear.”
Jaynes described the hiatus as a blessing in disguise. She received one-on-one attention from Kennedy this winter. While Jaynes would’ve preferred to train with teammates, circumstances helped her improve her focus.
Before her return to the team, she feared saying anything that would get her in trouble or engender discomfort. Quickly, though, teammates provided positive feedback, thanking her for her presence and guidance.
Despite the tribulations, Jaynes remained grateful for her teammates and the lessons they imparted.
At April’s ‘Cat-Griz dual in Missoula, Jaynes set school records in both the 100 hurdles (13.68) and 400 hurdles (57.93). She remembers breaking down.
This time, the tears were joyous.
“Without Coach and without a lot of tears, I would not have made it this far,” Jaynes said.
A month later, at the NCAA West Preliminaries, Jaynes ran the 400 hurdles in 58.22. After finishing, she quickly ducked into a tent and didn’t look at her time, trying to delay a potential disappointment.
Kennedy approached Jaynes and broke the news. She had qualified.
“Yeah, it’s been emotional and yeah, it’s been heart-wrenching and difficult,” Jaynes said, “but without that, I don’t think I would’ve grown into the athlete and person I am today.”