High-flying freshman Josie Taylor is already breaking records
Freshman high jumper Josie Taylor might be the new kid on the block for the Rice women’s track and field team, but she’s already breaking Conference USA meet records. Taylor, who is from Cambridge, Waikato, New Zealand, is finding herself right at home in her first year, which may be surprising considering Taylor had never been to the United States before she moved to Houston this past fall.
“It was actually my first time in the U.S. coming here last semester because I could never come in for a visit because of COVID,” Taylor said. “So I relied lots on Zoom calls with professors and coaches and video tours of campus. But something about Rice is special.”
Taylor’s athletic journey started back in New Zealand where she took part in many sports growing up. According to Taylor, one sport in particular, gymnastics, really helped give her a solid base for her athletic career.
“Growing up I played so many sports – gymnastics, lacrosse, netball and swimming,” Taylor said. “But I’m really glad I did competitive gymnastics because I feel like it gave me a good strength and flexibility base.”
As Taylor began to narrow down her sports, she honed in on track and field events. According to Taylor, there was one specific coach who started an athletics group at her school which allowed her to dive deeper into the sport of high jumping.
“I started athletics around four years ago and was encouraged to a large range of events; my favorite being 80m hurdles, javelin and high jump,” Taylor said. “Mike Guest, my old coach, is amazing and he [had] just relocated to the area and contacted my school about starting an athletics group. They contacted me and asked if I wanted to join, and of course I did. It just went from there really and I just really enjoyed high jumping and we had a really cool training group so it was always a fun time. From there I started more seriously training for high jump around the end of 2019.”
While Mike and his wife Jo Guest were the ones who introduced Taylor to her eventual main event of high jumping, they would soon leave New Zealand which led to her having a familiar face as her new coach.
“[Mike and Jo Guest] had so much experience in the sport and their enthusiasm was contagious,” Taylor said. “They left back to the UK a couple of years ago so my dad actually took up coaching me and my twin, so we sort of learnt together but it worked really well.”
Continuing with her high jumping endeavors, Taylor found many reasons to fall in love with the sport. According to Taylor, one of the reasons was because of the community that she felt while participating in the sport back home.
"I can't really pick a single thing about the sport that I love but a few things among many are having a really cool group of people that I would always compete with," Taylor said. "New Zealand is a relatively small country so at the big meets I would always be competing with the same girls and they were all so great and supportive of each other."
As Taylor began to make a name for herself in the high jump by achieving the feat of clearing 1.85 meters at the age of 18, it became time to make a decision on her life’s next chapter. According to Taylor, Rice presented the ideal combination of athletics and academics, and she has enjoyed her new team’s dynamic.
“I chose Rice because of the amazing academics and athletics which came hand in hand,” Taylor said. “I’ve discovered that the team vibe is very special, especially here at Rice, and it makes it feel not so much like an individual sport.”
With academics on her mind when deciding where to take the next step, Rice has provided Taylor with the opportunity to further her passions academically. According to Taylor, she has chosen to go head first into a field of study that particularly interested her during her last year of school.
"I am studying a [bachelor’s degree] majoring in earth environmental and planetary science," Taylor said. "[This is] something I stumbled across in my last year of school when I took a class called earth and space science and it got me hooked."
Aside from her academics, Taylor has raised her own high jumping bar as she has recently set a new personal best and Conference USA meet record in the high jump with 1.86 meters, the eighth best mark in the NCAA this season. According to Taylor, she was pleased with her results, but has already started planning new goals for upcoming competitions.
“It felt really good to know that training was paying off and the results were coming,” Taylor said. “Now my goals are set on Commonwealth Games qualifier [which is] 1.92m and nationals in three weeks. My long term goal is definitely the Olympics.”
While Taylor has thrived in her early days as a collegiate athlete, it can be difficult to remember that she is only just a freshman with a few months of living in the United States under her belt. According to Taylor, a big difference between the U.S. and New Zealand is how they conduct their competitions.
“My first conference was a very cool experience, I loved traveling with the team and watching everyone compete,” Taylor said. “The main difference in competing here vs New Zealand is that the US has a much larger pool of athletes to compete against which is really cool and the collegiate sporting system here is insane. New Zealand does not have this at all.”
As just a freshman, Taylor still has three more years ahead of her to pursue her academic and athletic goals. But for now, according to Taylor, she is still getting used to living in her new home of Houston and is excited for the opportunities of exploration in her new city.
“Houston is a pretty cool place although it did take me a while to get used to the weather,” Taylor said. “Fun fact, it was winter in New Zealand when I flew here in August so I went from very cold to very hot. I want to try to explore Houston more.”
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