When Brittany Gibson was a youngster, she truly believed that soccer was her sport.
“It was the main thing for me, playing soccer,” said Gibson, now a sophomore at McNair Academic High School. “I played soccer all the time. I was on a travel team that played all year round.”
As a student at Our Lady of Czestochowa in downtown Jersey City, Gibson also participated in track and field in the Olympic Spirit meets, organized by Hudson County Sports Hall of Famer John Hnath.
“Track I did for fun,” Gibson said. “My main sport was soccer.”
Upon enrolling at McNair Academic, Gibson did what she thought she was supposed to do. As a freshman, she tried out for the soccer team and made the team.
After that first soccer campaign, Gibson went to workouts with the McNair indoor track team.
“She showed a lot of potential,” veteran McNair Academic track and field coach Matt Hogan said. “She was pretty good right away.”
Again, Gibson’s initial involvement with the sport of track and field was for enjoyment.
“I had a lot of fun,” Gibson said. “I trained with a lot of the other girls and enjoyed myself a lot,” Gibson said.
But Gibson had no clue as to how well she was doing right away.
“I really didn’t,” Gibson said. “I didn’t understand what the big meets were. People would tell me and I kind of got what they were saying, but I didn’t put it into perspective.”
Gibson did well as a freshman in indoor and outdoor season, but nothing like what she’s achieved as a sophomore.
“She’s just come on like gangbusters,” Hogan said. “She’s a stud, a blue-chipper.”
In the fall, Gibson, never having run cross country previously, won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state sectional championship and eventually she ran a time of 19:31 at Holmdel Park, the third fastest time ever recorded by a girl in Hudson County history.
Gibson qualified for the NJSIAA indoor Meet of Champions during the winter months and was fully prepared to make her mark during the outdoor season, after enduring a bit of adversity.
“The first meet during indoor, I suffered a groin injury, so that cut down on my mileage,” Gibson said. “It actually cut my training mileage in half. Then, I got a throat infection and was really sick, so with the injury, then the illness, I missed training for about a month.”
Her first meet back was the NJSIAA North 2, Group I sectionals – and Gibson managed to finish third in the 3,200-meter run.
“But when the outdoor season started, I was really ready to make up for my lost time,” Gibson said. “I worked really hard to get back. I had some high expectations.”
And Gibson already had a better appreciation of the sport and the bigger meets.
“I understood what I had to do,” Gibson said. “I think things changed for me. I don’t think I would have been able to run or be a good distance runner without the other girls on the team. They made me a better runner overall. It was a big game changer for me.”
Gibson said that she was “really fired up” for the outdoor season.
She’s proven that the fire has been well worth it.
Two weeks ago, at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships, Gibson won the 1,600-meter run, the 3,200-meter run and was second to teammate Nicole Nicholas in the 800-meter run.
Last weekend, at the NJSIAA North 2, Group I championships at Ridge High School, Gibson won the 1,600-meter run in 5:31.01 and the 3,200-meter run in 11:51.72. She’s now a two-time state sectional champion, giving her four state sectional gold medals in just two years of competing.
For her efforts, Gibson has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. It’s the second straight week that a McNair Academic girl has received the honor, as Sarah Beckner of the Cougars’ softball team was the last recipient.
Hogan likes Gibson’s overall approach.
“She’s a very hard worker,” Hogan said. “Her work ethic is very good. But she is a student of the sport. She likes to read about the sport’s history and see what’s out there. She sets goals from what she reads and learns. She’s really into it now. It’s almost expected now that Brittany does well.”
“I do work very hard, but without the other girls on the team that I ran with and run with now, it wouldn’t be possible,” Gibson said. “They’ve been a big influence on me. I’ve become passionate about running and I came back this year with a vengeance.”
Gibson now heads to the overall Group I championships this weekend in Egg Harbor Township with a solid chance of winning at least one gold medal, maybe two. Gibson is currently the top seeded runner in the 3,200-meter run among Group I runners throughout the state.
“We’ve done a lot of work with Brittany on her speed,” Hogan said. “If she can put strength and speed together, she can definitely go to the next level.”
Hogan believes that Gibson is a big-time distance runner.
“Absolutely, she should run on the college level,” Hogan said. “Her best events would be a 5K or a 10K [kilometer] run in college. She’s not a bad miler [1,600-meters], but she doesn’t have that speed. She’s a better cross country runner than even the two-mile [3,200].”
“My coaches always tell me about the bigger meets and longer distances,” Gibson said. “We’re looking at the nationals and the 5K. I do like the longer distances and that’s where I have the most potential. It gives me bigger expectations for the future. I want to run in college. I just have to figure out where I want to go.”
She has some time to work the college plans out – like two years.
“I’ve been exposed to what is expected of me,” Gibson said.
There’s only one slight problem. Gibson has a problem with waking up in the morning. Because she literally lives just two blocks from McNair Academic, Gibson tends to sleep later than most. But sometimes, that causes difficulty.
“She definitely needs a wake-up call, because she doesn’t get up,” Hogan said.
“I’m definitely working on it, but my teammates all come to my house to wake me up,” Gibson said.
As long as Gibson makes it to the meets on time, her star is just beginning to shine. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.