May 6, 2014 at 5:00 AM
CHATHAM, NJ - The first sign of her talent for the hurdles came at the age 11. That's when Simone Kirton started with the beginner's five-step approach and then skipped the normal progression and went to three steps between hurdles.
That first year, Kirton competed at the junior nationals and finished fifth overall in the 100 hurdles and sixth overall in the 200 hurdles.
Now 14, the Chatham High freshman continues to make her mark. On Saturday, she ran a 14.5 anchor split in the shuttle hurdles, clinching Chatham's Morris County Relay Championship and helping her team establish a school mark in the event with a time of 1:05.26.
Simone Kirton is TAP Chatham's Athlete of the Week.
Kirton was coached by Alex Armenteros in Florida before her family moved to Chatham two years ago. Since taking to the track for Chatham, Kirton is part of four school records and she's set her sights on setting many more before she is done.
"I plan on improving my records every year," Kirton said. "To be a good hurdler you have to be dedicated. I train all-year round."
During the winter season, Kirton set the school mark in the 55-meter hurdles with a time of 8.59. This spring she has run the 100-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles, the 200 and the 400.
"Simone's 55 hurdles was impressive, but adding that extra distance in the 100 really helps her accelerate," Chatham girls track coach Julie Ullmeyer said. "Her form in the hurdles is so smooth."
Kirton took to the hurdles because of her height of 5'-8.
"I just like it because I have an advantage with my height," Kirton said. "Not everyone can hurdle, it's kind of a specialty event."
On Saturday, Kirton teamed up with Liz Malatesta, Erin O'Connor and Rashida Haye to better their seeding time by more than two seconds and beating out the top two seeds, Randolph and Butler.
"Simone is the powerhouse of our team," Malatesta said. "But on Saturday Rashida (Haye) was crazy. She ran a personal record by two seconds and it's her first season hurdling. The first day we did hurdles on the track, she three-stepped and we just watched her go. This is really exciting. It's so cool to have strong underclassmen."
Kirton's 100 hurdles school mark is 15.36. She runs the 400 hurdles in 64.95 and the 400-meter run in 60.2. She says she is always fine-tuning her technique, looking to run faster.
"I'm working on my hip rotation and dorsiflexing my foot so that I have better spring," Kirton said. "I look forward to the bigger meets because the competition pushes me to run faster."