Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Ericka Taylor weighs about 98 pounds.

And anyone who knows her, believes that about 97 of that is heart.

"That's just about right,'' said Westover A.D. and cross country coach Harley Calhoun, who watched Taylor run one of those races that inspires runners and non-runners alike when the Lady Patriots sophomore won the Class AAA state title this fall.

Near the end of the race, Taylor was done, spent, with nothing left.

But somehow she found a way to find just what she needed to hold off Columbus' Kristina Delpesche to become the first girl from Westover to win a state title since 1992.

That's just one of the reasons Taylor was the clear choice for The Herald's Players of the Year for girls cross country.

When Taylor crossed the finish line, she collapsed, falling to the ground in a heap. She could barely move, and had to be carried off the course.

"I didn't smile or celebrate,'' Taylor said. "Because I couldn't breathe or talk or anything. I couldn't feel my legs. I couldn't walk. When I got my breath, I was happy.''

She doesn't know how she did it -- not even today.

"I don't know where it came from,'' she said. ''I didn't think I could finish the race (earlier in the race), but when I came down the last hill and saw the finish line I just knew I could push myself harder."

Taylor then added: "I knew I could push myself to win it. I thought I was going to fall out at the end, but I guess I still had something left and it came up.''

Taylor is still rising.

She just turned 16 and is only a sophomore, but she has already shattered the record at Westover, running the 5K course at the Westover Relays in 18:59, the fastest time in the school's history on Oct. 2. That day changed her life.

"I never thought about winning a state title until that day,'' said Taylor, who had never broken the 20-minute mark, and was shooting for a time under 20 minutes -- but instead she broke 19. "That race made me realize I could do it and helped me push myself.''

No one knows where Taylor's horizon lies.

But Calhoun knew the day he met her that she might be special.

"The first day I saw her I knew she had talent,'' he said. "She was real quiet, but you could tell she had good character, and the first day she ran with the other girls she was keeping up with them. You could see her running was effortless. One of the parents saw her and said, 'It looks like she could run ahead of the others.' And I told him, 'No, let's just let her enjoy herself, and when the time comes I'll push her.'

"She's a very gifted athlete,. But she is an even better kid. She is just a joy to coach. She has the understanding of running, and understands what she has to do to get better. She works hard and gets the most out of practice and understands the different aspects of training and why we do this and what it means. That's what makes her such a special athlete.''

Calhoun and others believe Taylor's pretty special whether it's on the course, or in the classroom, or at her church.

She is an honor student who is involved in her church -- The Trumpet of God -- where she does volunteer work with the younger children and works in the nursery.

"She comes from a great family who taught her character and values,'' Calhoun said. "The first thing about her is her character. I always talk about her character, because that's the defining part about her.

"She just wants to make everyone around her happy. That's the kind of person she is. If you're having a bad day, just get around Ericka Taylor and she'll change it. She's so positive.''

Everyone calls Taylor "doughnut," and it's a nickname that has been well-earned. She just loves the sweet treat. It's hard to imagine how she can gobble them down and stay so pencil-thin.

"It's because I run so much,'' said Taylor, who first thought about track and running when she was 9 years old.

If you like irony, you'll love this: The best girls cross country runner in Westover history decided to become a runner at a Monroe track meet.

"I went to see my cousin run,'' Taylor recalled. "She was a sprinter and ran the 100 meters and the 100-meter hurdles for Monroe. I was about 9, and that's when I decided I wanted to run track.''

She was almost unbeatable in the 800-meter run in middle school, but never dreamed of running long distances.

"I would see the girls running the mile and they would be walking or passing out on the track,'' Taylor said. "So I was always afraid to do that.''

Last spring as a freshman, Taylor finished sixth in the Class AAA state meet in the two-mile run (3,200 meters).

She has come a long way with more roads to run and more titles to conquer.

"We don't know how good she can be,'' Calhoun said. "But (we know) she's very special.''