Surrounded by teammates, family and friends, Ja’Myra Dickson was in no mood to talk.
As the final results of the 2016 Livingston Parish Track and Field Meet were being revealed, Dickson felt she already knew the outcome, but she silently stood by, listening to the announcer’s voice booming through the loudspeakers.
What she heard when the team results were finally announced filled her eyes with tears: Walker High School, second place.
“I just broke down,” Dickson said.
Walker’s second-place finish wasn’t all that upset Dickson — the feeling she was responsible was the true reason.
Battling shin splints the entire meet, a slightly-hampered Dickson ran to victory in the 100 meters while anchoring wins in the 4x100 and 4x200-meter relays.
But she couldn’t avoid the shin splints all night. They flared up in the 200 meters just as she made it to the final straightaway where Tarondia Harold of Denham Springs High swiftly passed her by.
The pain had finally caught up to Dickson.
“When I got to the halfway mark on the straightaway, all I remember is (Harold) passed me up and I let my shoulders down and just let her go,” Dickson said. “I was hurting so bad I didn’t care anymore. But after that, all I could think was that it was my fault we were going to lose the meet.”
She remembers her coach, William Silk, trying to cheer her up once he realized how personal she was taking the loss. She remembers wiping away the tears before accepting an MVP award she hardly felt deserving of, despite the three titles and second-place finish she had helped secure in the large school girls’ division.
More than a year has gone by since, but she still remembers the feeling of that night, because she doesn’t believe in forgetting her own shortcomings. Dickson, who is in the midst of her junior season with the Walker track team, doesn’t try to run away from her failures. She wants to run past them — as well as everyone else along the way.
For Dickson, the goal is perfection, even if it can’t be achieved.
“Ja’Myra is one of those children that whatever she does, she does everything with heart,” said her mother, Jertaza Williams. “She puts her all into whatever she does, no matter what it is. She feels like she has to be perfect.”
Dickson was nearly perfect in the early part of the season, leading the Lady Cats to meet titles in the Walker 4-Way, the St. Thomas Aquinas Judy Baehr Relays at Southeastern Louisiana University and the Livingston Parish Championship while garnering titles in 10 of the first 12 varsity events she competed in.
The speedy junior breezed past competitors from East Ascension, Live Oak and Broadmoor in the Walker 4-Way on March 3, collecting wins in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes while helping the Lady Cats land victories in the 400 and 800-meter relays.
She did enough to help Walker earn the girls’ title over 16 other schools in the Judy Baehr Relays two weeks later, but not enough to garner any individual titles. She finished behind Loranger’s Kiana Foster in the 100 and 200 meters but was once again the anchor of two winning relay teams in the 4x100 and 4x200.
Dickson saved her best for the Livingston Parish Championship on March 15, where she stole the show with another MVP performance while leading Walker to 109.5 points (21.5 more than last season) and a first-place finish in the large schools’ division.
Raven Barze and newcomers Jeralyn Johnson and Kaitlyn Hayes joined Dickson for an early win in the 4x200-meter relay with a time of 1:48.23, which was 2.5 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Denham Springs High (1:51.53).
Krystal Hutchinson replaced Barze for the 4x100 meter relay, but it was the same result for the Lady Cats, who blazed to first place in 51.64 seconds.
Dickson was the anchor for both relay teams, but she struck individual gold with wire-to-wire victories in the 100 and 200 meters, finishing with times of 13.18 and 26.92 seconds, respectively.
The pint-sized sprinter won the crowd over that night as her 4-foot-11 frame blew by challengers from the other parish schools. Despite typically being one of the shortest runners on the track, Dickson has little trouble catching up to those with much longer strides. Once she gets going, she feels confident against anyone.
So does her coach.
“She is very explosive, no doubt — lightweight power,” Silk said. “When she gets those legs moving, she’s rolling.”
But Dickson has more than strong legs working for her.
She pays attention to every little detail, from her positioning on the start blocks to the way she breathes as she’s running.
She never forgets the times she’s failed or the reasons behind them, instead using them to fuel her through grinding workouts and competitive track meets. When Dickson lines up before a race, she’s never concerned with the other runners, instead focusing solely on beating her previous time. If she can beat that, then she’ll live with the results.
So when Dickson took her spot in the individual races at this season’s Livingston Parish meet, thoughts of last season’s stumble in the 200-meter dash inevitably resurfaced in her mind, but they faded away in just under 27 seconds.
“I was really mad at myself after parish last year because I knew I could’ve won if I hadn’t of let up at the end,” Dickson said. “This year, I was thinking about how bad I felt then and I told myself I was going to push for everything. That’s all I think about, just pushing through and knowing in my heart that I can do it.”
Williams has witnessed that resolute behavior from her daughter for 17 years. One of her favorite stories to share — though one of the scariest at the time — came when Dickson was struck in the head with a softball bat 10 years ago.
A teammate took a practice swing as a 7-year-old Dickson walked by and nailed her above her left eye, forcing Williams to rush Dickson to a nearby hospital so doctors could glue the wound back together.
After the panic of that day, Williams felt certain her daughter’s softball days were over.
“We all thought she was going to give up,” Williams said. “Her coach thought she quit, I thought she quit, my mom thought she quit. We all thought she would quit.”
They were all wrong.
“When Ja’Myra heard that, she cried and was like, ‘No, I still want to play,’” Williams said.
An adamant Dickson played in the next game and even got a hit, which thrilled her coach enough for him to run on the field, pick her up and spin her around as friends and family cheered.
Though her softball career didn’t last much longer after that, especially once she showed a greater interest in dance, cheerleading and eventually track, Dickson has prided herself on seeing things through.
In the classroom, it has helped her maintain above a 3.0 GPA. On the track, it’s helped her set school records in the four events she competes in, as well as several titles along the way.
Once Dickson decides to do something, her eyes are locked on the finish.
“Whatever she starts, she’s going to put her whole heart into it and see it through,” Williams said. “That’s just Ja’Myra.”
Dickson didn’t compete in the Alan Brown Invitational on March 30 but took part in the Josten’s Invitational at Episcopal High School in Baton Rouge a week later, finishing in the top three in three of her four events.
She ran a season-best 12.87 in the 100 meters to earn second place behind Zachary’s Kayla Clifton, a member of a state-title winning relay team last season. Dickson also set a school record in the 200 with a time of 26.71 seconds, which was good enough for third place at the nine-school meet.
Hayes, Johnson, Barze and Dickson finished second behind Zachary in the 4x200 relay, but the Lady Cats were unable to duplicate that success in the 4x100, where they finished in fifth place.
Up next for Dickson and the Walker track and field team is the Southeastern Louisiana Invitational in Hammond, which takes place April 13 in Hammond.
But don’t expect Dickson to talk about it too much, especially once she steps on the track.
“I’m a very friendly person, but on the track I stay focused,” Dickson said. “People will try to talk to me and I won’t really say anything. I’ll just smile or laugh a little. I’m usually zoned out. I can’t hear anything.”
Well, she does hear one thing.
“When I get to the end of the race, I start hearing people screaming, ‘Go!’” Dickson said. “Even if I’m about to gas out, it always gives me a little extra burst.”