With all the cross-country travel she's been doing for the sake of sports this year, it was perhaps a little ironic that Kayla Walton's greatest athletic journey was to compete in the standing long jump.
Walton, 14, made a trip to Hershey, Pa., earlier this month to compete in the 27th annual Hershey's Track and Field Youth Program North American Final Meet.
She was one of five Alaska athletes to compete at the event, which was held Aug. 7 and included nearly 500 youths from across the continent.
Walton qualified for the meet with her jump of 7 feet, 5 1/2 inches at the local Hershey's meet, held in May at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. She got a phone call in July notifying her of her selection to participate at the North American meet.
"It was really fun - you got to see all the different runners, and it was cool to see everyone put their all into it," she said.
Walton finished ninth out of 14 competitors in the girls age 13-14 division, recording the same leap she had in Juneau - 7-5 1/2.
In addition to competing, Walton got to tour the Hershey's chocolate factory and spend time at the Hersheypark amusement park. She also met legendary U.S. decathlete Rafer Johnson, who won the gold medal in that event at the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Instead of flying back to Juneau, Walton and the track meet organizers arranged for her to fly to Anchorage - so she could jump right into her role as goalkeeper for the Juneau Soccer Club U15 Xtratuffs at the State Cup tournament, held Aug. 10-14.
The Xtratuffs finished second at this year's State Cup, after winning the title the previous two tournaments.
Walton's year also has included, among other events, winning an indoor soccer gold medal at March's Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, Alberta. And it's not done yet - as a freshman at Juneau-Douglas High School this fall, she'll be playing volleyball.
Other Southeast Alaska athletes competing at this year's Hershey's meet included Korina Chapman and Ross Venneberg of Sitka.
Juneau athletes who have made the trip to Hershey in recent years are Daniel Turner, who competed in the 50-meter dash in 2002, and the 400-meter relay team of Katrina Edwards, Van Marie Jackson, Letasha McKoy and Hollie Tolland, who made the trip in 1997.
For more information about the Hershey's Track and Field program, look on the Web at www.hersheystrackandfield.com.
The Juneau Empire sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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