Through the first two years of her decorated prep career, Taylor Roe was virtually invincible.
The distance-running phenom had claimed five state titles in track and two more in cross country, winning all seven state races she’d competed in.
But after all her dominance as a freshman and sophomore, the seemingly once-unbeatable Lake Stevens High School star went winless in her next five state races.
“I went from winning almost everything to winning nothing, and it was really hard mentally for me to get through it,” Roe said. “But I know that I needed that at that time. … And I knew that if I could come back from this, I would be better than I ever was.”
After a long and trying two-year journey between state crowns, Roe made a storybook return to the top of the state podium last month, winning Class 4A track and field titles in both the 800 and 3,200 meters to finish her illustrious prep career as a nine-time state champion.
In doing so, she became the only 4A girls runner in state history to win seven state championships in track’s distance events, according to washingtontrack.com.
For a senior-year comeback campaign that solidified her status as one of the most accomplished high school distance runners in state history, Roe is The Herald’s 2019 Kristi Bartz Memorial Girls Athlete of the Year.
“It’s just remarkable to even think about,” Lake Stevens distance coach Stuart Chaffee said of Roe’s spectacular prep career. “She’s just been so good for so long, but track can sometimes be a brutal sport and it doesn’t always have happy endings, so I’m really happy that her high school career got to end on such a high note. … What a great ending to a phenomenal career.”
Roe, the daughter of former University of Washington distance runners Lawrence and Jennifer Roe, began running competitively in middle school and burst onto the national scene with a pair of first-place finishes at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships.
Roe immediately continued her success at the high school level, winning three state titles as a freshman and adding four more as a sophomore. Her sensational sophomore campaign included a historic track distance trifecta, when she became the state’s only 4A girls runner to ever sweep state titles in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the same meet, according to washingtontrack.com.
However, the next year-and-a-half was filled with adversity. Roe’s times were slower, and state titles suddenly became elusive. The low point came during her junior track season, which ended with her placing sixth and ninth in her state races — a far cry from what she accomplished only one year earlier.
“There were nights that I would just be crying, because I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “… I thought you just keep building — you just keep getting stronger and stronger. I was like, ‘Why am I suddenly not running as fast? Why is this harder?’ And then you start getting beat, and that starts getting in your head.”
During that time, Roe was hindered by two physical challenges. She’d grown from sophomore to junior year, and she eventually discovered she was partially iron-deficient.
“I weighed more, I was taller, (and) adding on the iron issues I was having, that also made it a lot tougher,” she said. “That track season was just a struggle.”
Roe experienced more setbacks during her senior cross country season and finished third in the state meet, crossing the line well behind the state champion. However, even as the frustration continued, she stayed determined.
“I just knew that week after week, day after day, if I just kept training and working hard, that I could come through when it mattered,” she said.
Roe said it helped to receive advice from other experienced runners such as Issaquah’s Sami Corman, who won two track state titles as a senior during Roe’s junior year.
“It helped (hearing) them say, ‘I went through the same thing, too. … You’ll come back from it, and you’re going to be better because of it,’” Roe said.
Through her struggles, Roe also gained a better understanding of racing strategy.
“I just learned that I didn’t need to always be leading — that I didn’t need to go out and just hammer it from the beginning, because that usually was my strategy when I was younger,” she said. “… You have to be flexible and just come with it as it goes. I just learned how to race.”
After a two-year state-title drought, everything came back together for Roe during her storybook final day at last month’s state track and field meet.
Rebounding from a fourth-place finish in the state 1,600 meters less than 48 hours prior, the Lake Stevens star began her redemption-filled day by expertly racing to victory in the 800 meters. Roe burst in front early on the second and final lap, then held off her nearest competitor down the final stretch to make her long-awaited return to the podium’s top step.
“When I crossed that (finish) line, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s been two years,’” she said. “It was awesome just to share it with my coaches and my family, who were all lining the fence. … It was crazy.”
Roe then masterfully employed a similar strategy in the 3,200 meters later that day, running stride for stride behind the leader before making a move around the final turn and surging to victory in a personal-best time.
“That 800 was about as textbook (and) perfect an 800 as you could see,” longtime Lake Stevens track and field coach Jeff Page said. “And then that 3,200 was the same way. If you made instructional videos about how to run those races, that would be it.”
Only about an hour after her 3,200 triumph, Roe put the exclamation mark on her prep career with yet another strong closing kick. Showing no signs of fatigue despite the quick turnaround, she anchored the Vikings’ 4×400 relay team to a third-place medal, securing the Lake Stevens girls a program-best second-place finish in the 4A team standings.
“Since she’s arrived, she’s done whatever we’ve asked her to do,” Chaffee said. “She’s always done it with a smile on her face, she’s always put her teammates first, and that was just another example. So it’s kind of fitting that that’s how she got to end her career.”
Roe, who maintained a 3.8 grade-point average while totaling 12 individual top-four state medals in track and cross country, is signed to continue her distance-running career at Oklahoma State University. She plans to study psychology, with a focus on criminal justice.
As she embarks on the next stage of her life, Roe said she’s grateful for the lessons and experiences she’s gained as a runner.
“The thing about the sport that’s hard is it’s very rare to just go linear — to just keep going up and up and up,” she said. “You have your ups and your downs. When you’re younger, you think, ‘I’m unstoppable, nothing can happen to me, I’m invincible.’
“But looking back now, I’m grateful for the ups and the downs. It’s made me who I am today. … It’s made me a better person.”