Cherry Hill resident Peyton Barger competed in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)’s Junior Olympic Games for the second consecutive year earlier this month, running the 1,500- and 3,000-meter events.
To qualify for the national meet, the 10-year-old placed first in the 3,000-meter race at both the district and regional meets and placed third in the 1,500-meter race at the district and regional levels.
Her mom Rachel explained that Barger competed with girls nearly a year older because she was born in December, though she’ll be 11 at the end of the year.
“She’s always been a good runner, even when she was a little toddler,” Rachel said. “Since like first grade, she always had endurance, wanted to race, and then we signed her up for a healthy kid running series.”
In addition to track, Barger also plays soccer in the fall and spring.
“Track is different because when you play soccer, sometimes you can do really bad, but your team does really good … and you still win,” she said. “But if you do really bad in track, it’s your fault and you don’t get anything. I feel like soccer’s a little easier because you’re part of a team.”
Since last year, Barger has steadily improved her time and her personal records (PR) in the 1,500- and 3,000-meter runs. For the 3,000 meter, Barger’s personal best went from 12 minutes and one second at the district meet to 11 minutes and 50 seconds at the regional contest, to 11 minutes and 37 seconds at the Junior Olympics, where she placed fifth in her age group against 36 other runners.
For the 1,500 meter, Barger’s best time was 5 minutes and 16 seconds, achieved at the regional race. While she wasn’t able to beat that or place in the top eight at nationals, her time of 5 minutes and 32 seconds was still an improvement on last year’s 5 minutes and 43 seconds.
“Improvement is improvement,” said Coach Craig Strimel, owner and founder of the South Jersey Track and Field Club. “We’re going to celebrate success of course when we see it, and we get to experience it as coaches, (but) it doesn’t necessarily have to be the thing that we’re most focused on.
“We’re teaching kids that if you work hard and you focus, you will improve,” he added. “We don’t want to lose sight (of that.)”
Barger joined the South Jersey club two years ago and was one of two girls to go to the AAU Junior Olympic games this year. The other was Dylan Hosty of Haddonfield, who ran the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races. This is Barger’s second year competing in the national event, and her goal is a faster time.
“Next year, I want to get a medal in the 1,500 and be faster than this year,” she said.