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Riverside’s Branton competes for U.S. in England

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / September 9, 1998

RESERVE – Riverside high jumper Rachel Branton knows about elevating her game, having advanced to the state track and field meet each of the last two years. Recently she had the opportunity to bring it to a positionusually reserved for Olympic and national teams – on the international level.

Branton was one of three athletes from Louisiana who traveled to England this summer as a member of the World Sports Exchange Inter-national team. There, she had the opportunity to compete in three meets againstinternational competition. And she proved that she was capable ofcompeting at that level, placing second twice and fifth once in the high jump.

“It was kind of hard,” Branton said of the competition. “I was competingwith people a lot older. And it was colder than down here.”It was not the first time Branton has succeeded against a high level of competition. She got started in the high jump while doing it in herphysical education class in the sixth grade. Branton started competing onthe Riverside track team the following season.

In her eighth grade year, Branton surprised many by qualifying for the state meet. There, competing against upperclassmen, she finished third.”Inside I was really excited but I didn’t show it on the outside,” Branton said of her first experience at the state meet. “I was excited knowing Iwas in the eighth grade and placed in state.”Branton’s performance at state put the spotlight on her and added more pressure to the start of her freshman season in 1998. Adding to thedifficulty was an injury she suffered early in the season. At one point, shewas thinking about giving it up but decided to stick with it.

“They thought I had hurt my back and I didn’t give it time to heal,” Branton said. “But I kept on doing it.”As the season wore on, things got easier for Branton. Teammate AmandaRoussel took some of the pressure off by breaking the school record in the event.

“I ended up last year doing a lot better,” Branton said.

Branton went on to place second at the district meet, qualifying her for regionals. At first she was thinking about missing the regional meetbecause of a band trip but decided to go and placed third. That third-placefinish was the difference as Riverside won the meet by two points.

“I didn’t think I would make it,” Branton said of placing at regionals. “Itried hard and I did.”That finish also qualified her for the state meet for the second consecutive season. And for the second time, she placed third, setting apersonal record with a jump of five feet, three inches.

Branton’s performance at the state meet helped her get noticed by the World Sports Exchange. Rachel, along with an athlete from Metairie andone from Baton Rouge, were flown to England. The athletes were taken tothe track and taught new things about their events.

Besides the training and the competition, Branton also got to visit sites in London and Liverpool during her eight-day stay. She got to see Big Ben,Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace with Windsor being her favorite.

“I am hoping to be able to go again,” Branton said of her opportunity to compete in England.

Branton, a sophomore, said that would like to try for a track scholarship for college where she would study to become an X-ray technician. Her goalfor the 1999 track season is to better her personal mark and jump 5-6.

And she believes her experience overseas this summer will help her do just that.

“It had me driven,” Branton said. “I saw many good people and it made mewant to be like them. The trip encouraged me to want to do track more.After the trip, I can’t wait to do it.”

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