After you’ve already won five NJSIAA state sectional track and field championships in your lifetime, what does one do for an encore?
Well, if you’re the talented Brittany Gibson, you simply go out and win three more.
That’s what the McNair Academic High School junior did last weekend, winning the 1,600 and 3,200-meter run gold medals as well as running a leg in the Cougars’ victorious 4x800-meter relay team, giving Gibson now a total of eight state titles in her illustrious career.
But Gibson would be the first one to tell you that these three didn’t exactly come easily.
“From last year to this year, I think I’ve matured a lot,” Gibson said. “I’ve been training a lot harder. I’ve been doing a lot of the college workouts that Coach [Matt] Hogan did when he was in college [competing at St. Peter’s College, now St. Peter’s University]. It’s making everything I do a little more important.”
A part of the reason for the increased workout regimen stems from a change in Gibson’s lifestyle.
A vegetarian since grade school, Gibson made the decision to become strictly vegan last year, meaning that not only does she not eat meat, but Gibson does not eat anything that comes from an animal, such as dairy products like milk, cheese and eggs.
“It’s all strictly plant-based foods,” Gibson explained. “It’s not that bad. It doesn’t bother me when other people eat regular food.”
However, the lifestyle took its toll.
“I think being a vegan all caught up with me,” said Gibson, who had to endure a series of health issues earlier this scholastic year. “I didn’t think it would have been a problem. I had some blood work done at the end of cross country season and it turned out that I had iron deficiency and Vitamin D deficiency. I was also always prone to throat infections, so that also hurt me. The blizzards that we had in the winter made it difficult to train and perform like I wanted to.”
Her stamina was down and her times suffered.
“I think she just got a little burned out after cross country,” Hogan said. “I think she was just trying a little too hard. She struggled a lot during indoors.”
Gibson admittedly said that she didn’t feel right until a few weeks ago.
“I started feeling better right before the [Jersey City] meet,” Gibson said.
It was at the Jersey City championships where Gibson competed in three events for the first time.
“I ran the 800, the 1,600 and the 3,200,” Gibson said. “I had been taking vitamin supplements and started to feel better. My workouts were back to where I expected.”
Gibson then went on to win the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships two weeks ago.
“That’s when I knew I was feeling pretty good,” Gibson said.
Then came last week’s performances at the North Jersey Section 2, Group I championships at Ridge High School, winning the 1,600-meter run in 5:24.67, taking the 3,200-meter gold in 11:29.14 and helping the 4x800-meter relay win in 10:34.29.
For winning three gold medals at the state sectionals, Gibson has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Hogan noticed the change in his standout runner.
“It’s probably the strongest she’s been since like September or October,” Hogan said. “I think the county meet was like her comeback meet. She’s been running well ever since. She ran on the lead both the 1,600 and 3,200 and made a nice comeback to win the relay. It’s like perfect timing, her coming back at the right time. I just hope she hasn’t peaked yet.”
That’s because Gibson has the overall Group I state championships this weekend at Jost Field in South Plainfield, where she’s the second seed in both events.
Hogan likes the fact that Gibson has become the team leader, even though she’s only a junior.
“We don’t have a senior on the entire team, so we’re still a very young team,” Hogan said. “Brittany makes sure everyone warms up right and does the right things. She’s also a cheerleader for the others. She watches the other events when she’s not competing and is cheering the others on. She’s a good teammate who sacrifices for others.”
Gibson hopes to do well this weekend, then move on to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, where she has ended her season in each of the last two seasons.
“That’s the goal,” Gibson said. “I think I’m definitely getting there health wise. If I’m not there yet, I’m really close. My times are good. I feel good.”
Gibson has already begun looking at colleges. She would like to major in English and economics in school and is looking at the University of California-Berkeley, Barnard College and Rutgers. She owns a 3.5 grade point average, so she is an excellent student as well.
“She can run at most schools,” Hogan said. “She’s our best distance runner ever, but she wants to go to big schools.”
For now, Gibson is poised to make history, shooting next year to become the first McNair track athlete to ever win four state sectional championships.
“That would be amazing,” Gibson said. “It would be the goal. I already have three under my belt. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I sure would like to do it.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
McNair Academic junior track standout Brittany Gibson