Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Berkmar's Elexis Guster is one of the state's top hurdlers and sprinters. This season Guster has run the 100- , 200- and 300-meter hurdles, the 400 and on several relays.
All Elexis Guster wanted for her 18th birthday was for Sanya Richards-Ross to follow her on Twitter.
Leading up to her birthday last July, Guster tweeted day after day she would love a follow from the Olympic gold medalist.
But before she went to bed that night, there was no follow. Then she got a message.
"Happy birthday, I want to send you some shoes," Richards-Ross tweeted to Guster.
It took everything the Berkmar senior had to not yell with joy and wake up her family.
"I was just trying to get her attention. I was happy," Guster said.
Guster got the attention of a worldwide athlete, just like she's gotten the attention around the track with persistence and hard work.
The Region 8-AAAAAA champion heads into today's state sectional as one of the favorites to win the 300 hurdles state championship. She has the top time in the state and is a threat to win the 100-meter run as well.
"I really want her to win the whole thing. The goal is to win state," Berkmar coach Johnny Burdette said. "We put that out there the first day of practice. Have fun and win state."
Guster, who has signed with the Iowa track program, might not be a state title contender if it wasn't for a change in events last year.
She was a state placer in the 400 as a freshman and sophomore. Then her coach convinced her to try hurdles.
"He was like I'm going to put you in hurdles," Guster said. "I was scared because I had never done it before. I went to state and thought I might be good at it."
Guster placed fourth at state in the 300 hurdles last year. It was all the confidence she needed for her senior year.
"I get nervous. When you get nervous, you mess up. I let a lot of people intimidate me, but not this year," Guster said. "When I was younger, I was going against people who are bigger than me. I was just a freshman or sophomore and they were seniors, so of course they intimidated me."
Now Guster is the intimidator on the track. She holds Berkmar school records in the 100, 200, 400 and 300 hurdles. Her time of 42.13 seconds in the 300 hurdles is No. 1 in the state this year and No. 5 in the nation.
"She's a very hard worker," Burdette said. "This year, it's like she's elevated to another level. Once she got focused on her event, she's been on another planet."
Berkmar hasn't had a state champion since Julianna Smith won the discus title in 2007.
Guster's shot at a state crown appeared to take a hit in early April. She was running in a home meet in the 100 hurdles when she crashed into a hurdle and fell down. More than three weeks later, the scar on her right knee is a reminder of the crash and right of passage.
"It's like my coach says 'You're not an official hurdler until you fall,'" Guster said. "Now I can be like I fell, it's over and done with, I'm not scared anymore. It motivated me to work on my technique more to not fall. I'm more confident now."
In the past, a fall like that would have hurt Guster's confidence. But the crash never hindered her performance as she ended up running in a meet a few days later. She set a personal record of 11.83 seconds in the 100 just two weeks after the fall. That time in No. 2 in Class AAAAAA this season.
"The mental focus and preparation has been different from any other year," Berkmar boys coach Gerald Williams said. "That's all she lacks, just the focus. She's been determined."
A confident and determined Guster could be the difference at the state meet this year. She's brought home plenty of medals in the past, but is still seeking that gold medal.
"This year I've gotten serious about it and I've hit low times," Guster said. "I'm looking forward to winning state."THE GUSTER FILE
Who: Elexis Guster
Sport: Track and field
Favorite sports team: Boston Celtics
Favorite TV show: "SpongeBob Square Pants"
Dream job: Pediatrician
-- Has a personal record of 42.13 seconds in the 300 hurdles, which is No. 1 in the state and No. 5 in the nation
-- Placed third at state meet in 300 hurdles last year
-- Has won Region 8 titles in the 100, 200 and 300 hurdles
-- Signed with University of Iowa track and field
-- Maintains 3.5 GPA