Florida senior Shayla Sanders couldn’t see the finish line.
By the time she finished her leg of the relay at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Championships, there was no time to see who finished first.
Four hundred meters run by four sprinters goes by quickly.
Her relay team had struggled earlier that day.
However, when teammate Robin Reynolds put her heels in the blocks at the starting line, Sanders knew her team was ready.
“We said, ‘Forget everything, trust our marks, trust coach Holloway.' Because that’s what we’d been doing,” Sanders said.
It wasn’t until she saw her teammate Kyra Jefferson shouting out in excitement that she knew.
Her team had won the first outdoor 4x100-meter relay national championship in school history. And despite the team’s early struggles, Sanders said she wasn’t surprised.
“We weren’t going to let nobody else beat us,” she said, “so that’s what we went and did.”
That was 2015. Sanders was a redshirt sophomore.
Now she’s a senior entering her final season as a Gator. And this weekend at the Florida Relays, she wants more. Just like she always has.
Sanders started running track in the sixth grade. Her father saw her potential as a sprinter after watching her as a cheerleader when she was young, so she tried track out.
Sanders said she started out competing in the 400 and 800 meters in sixth grade, and in seventh and eighth grade, she moved to the 100 and 200 meters, events known for those who can turn on the jets early in a race. But when she got to high school, Sanders said “it took a whole big change.”
Sanders didn’t clarify what she meant by “whole big change,” but it could mean a few different things.
It could mean her turning into a runner-up finisher in the 100 and 200 meters as a junior at the 2011 FHSAA Class 4A Outdoor Final. Or maybe it was her turning into a 100-meter and 200-meter champion at the 2012 FHSAA Class 4A Outdoor Finals and a bronze medalist in the same two events at the 2012 USATF Junior Outdoor Championships. Or, possibly, it was her posting the top outdoor 100- and 200-meter times in the United States the same year.
Regardless, recruiters took notice of her success, and the phones started ringing.
“There were a lot of people calling,” she said, “but my coach made sure that, you know, I kept that dedication and that determination to do everything that I can do because I knew that a lot of people were looking at me.”
Sanders took visits to Auburn, UCF, Kentucky, Florida and an unofficial visit to Miami, ultimately deciding to go to school a little more than 300 miles north of her home in Pompano Beach.
Since arriving at UF, Sanders has become a five-time USTFCCCA Outdoor All-American and a four-time Indoor All-American.
And as she goes into her last season representing the Gators, she said she still has things left to accomplish.
“Every year that I come out to run, to compete is always going out hard,” she said. “Going out with a bang.”
Florida coach Mike Holloway said during Sanders’ time at Florida, she has kept the team in contention when it comes to sprints. He said she has become a mainstay as the second leg in the 4x100, and her accomplishments speak for themselves. But when he talks about Sanders, he talks more about her character than what her legs can do for the team.
“Shayla is just a very positive human being,” Holloway said. “They don’t come any better as a person than Shayla. She’s always upbeat, she’s always positive, always with a smile on her face, and I’ve watched her grow into quite the young lady.
“I’m just very proud of the lady she’s become on and off the track.”
As for this season, Sanders and the Gators are competing in their second full meet of the season at home in the Florida Relays, which started Thursday and run through Saturday.
Teams from across the country will come to compete at the meet, working on personal records and getting as close to perfection as possible early on in the outdoor season.
As for Sanders, she will be focusing on the 200 meters, an event she said her coaches need her to focus on a little more this season.
And because she wasn’t able to compete during the 2017 indoor season with her team because of exhausted indoor eligibility, she said she’s been hard at work.
As for what comes next in Sanders’ life after graduation in April, she has a few ideas.
“What I plan to do is hopefully get a contract and go pro,” she said with the smile her coach said never leaves her face. “Then, of course, go to 2020.”
UF sprinter Shayla Sanders runs the 100 meters at the Hurricane Collegiate Invitational on Saturday, March 25.