BREWER, Maine — As a sixth-grader, Teal Jackson wasn’t enjoying track and field. So she quit the Brewer Middle School team.
“I was like, I’m done with track, this isn’t fun,” said Jackson.
Looking back, she can’t help but appreciate the irony of that decision.
Six years later, the Brewer High School graduate is one of the most accomplished female athletes in Maine schoolgirl track and field history.
Jackson capped her high school career June 1 with a dominating performance at the Class A state championship meet on her home track at Brewer Community School.
The diminutive speedster won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints and the long jump.
“I’ll never coach another girl who’s going to win four events at states,” said Brewer indoor track head coach Dan Juilli. “She’s the best Class A runner ever in the history of Maine.”
Jackson’s finale featured a record-setting performance in her signature event, the 400-meter sprint. She tripped the timer in 57.00 seconds, the fastest time ever run by a Maine girl, regardless of class.
“It doesn’t really register,” Jackson said recently as she took a rare leisurely stroll around Brewer’s track. “It doesn’t seem like I’ve been faster than anybody who ever ran. I just know it’s my best.”
Jackson owned the sprints in the Eastern Maine Indoor Track League and Penobscot Valley Conference for three years. She claimed three consecutive indoor individual titles in the 55, 200 and 400 and also won the 100, 200 and 400 three straight years outdoors.
Each time, she won or shared the girls Most Outstanding Performer award.
“It’s been fun to watch,” said Brewer Middle School coach Glen Holyoke, who has followed Jackson’s development.
“Teal is not the best runner I’ve ever had in middle school, but she certainly has stuck with it and has grown into the most accomplished track athlete that I’ve ever been able to coach.”
Jackson has always run fast. She first showed her speed in Brewer’s summer recreation program and at the annual elementary school field day.
At that event, boys and girls competed head-to-head. Jackson more than held her own, and remembers bragging about it to her mother, Tess (Brier) Broussard.
“Guess what, mom. I beat almost all the boys,” she remembers saying. “That’s when I realized that I’m kind of fast.”
In sixth grade, Jackson gave up track. A promising career might have ended there, if not for Holyoke.
The longtime teacher and coach knew she had potential and encouraged her to give it another try.
“I did not have her in class, but I saw her in the hall every day,” he said. “Kids need someone around to tell them to be patient, to give it another shot.”
Impressed by his persistence, Jackson agreed.
“Mr. Holyoke was the start of everything, getting me motivated,” Jackson said. “He’s passionate about all of his students, and every single person, whether it’s his distance kids or jumpers. That’s what really got me into track.”
All in the family
Jackson realizes she could not have enjoyed such success without being challenged physically and mentally.
She credits some of her competitive fire to her older brother Anthony, who excelled in track and football.
Jackson said she spent her childhood trying to keep up with her brother and their cousin Justin Brier, regardless of what sport they were playing
“My brother is a really hard worker, he’s really intense,” she said.
Anthony later supported Teal by holding her starting blocks at meets whenever he was able.
“I’ll get really nervous and start to freak out. He’ll try to calm me down,” she said.
Jackson knows she acquired some of her athletic prowess from her parents. Her mother ran track at Brewer, also competing in the 400.
She is thankful for the genes but said the key contribution from her mother was developing the right attitude to handle challenges.
“She’d say the only person getting in the way of me having fun and doing better is myself,” Jackson said.
Coming from a former single mother of two who had persevered despite some struggles, Jackson took the advice to heart.
“She’s a great person. She has an optimistic personality,” Jackson said.
“I think she helped me be an individual and don’t be afraid to do your own thing,” Jackson said. “Nothing can stop me if I try hard enough.”
Jackson also credits the love and support of her maternal grandparents, Ralph and Jan Brier, as important in her life.
Toughest on the track
Once in high school, Jackson was fast, but wasn’t ready to beat the area’s best sprinters.
Early on, she was steered toward the 400 meters.
“We’ve always said, if you’re not the fastest kid on the playground, but you’re one of the fastest, you’re a 400 runner,” Holyoke said.
The 400 requires more than pure speed. It has a propensity to take a physical and emotional toll on the runner.
“The 400, because of the nature of it, the physiology part, is the toughest event on the track,” Holyoke offered.
“No matter how good you are, your body says, ‘What did you just do to me?’”
That dynamic has plagued Jackson, psychologically.
“She gets herself all worked up,” Juilli said. “She’ll say, ‘I can’t run. I’m sick. I’m going to puke.’”
She admits spending too much time stressing about how she is going to feel when the race is over.
“My coach thought I was scaring myself, because I know how bad it feels at the end,” Jackson said. “He told me not to think about it and not to worry.”
And as Jackson worked to perfect her approach, she also fine-tuned her efforts in the shorter sprints.
She began her Eastern Maine domination of the sprints as a sophomore in 2011 and went undefeated in conference championships in the 55, 100, 200 and 400 for three years in a row.
Taking it up a notch
It took Jackson longer to attain the top spot statewide in Class A, but she never backed down.
“She’s always worked really hard,” said Juilli, who explained some runners who are really fast early in their careers tend to plateau. “We didn’t allow her to peak.”
The Brewer coaching staff pushed Jackson by having her practice with the boys.
“She’d be our fastest boys 400 [runner],” Juilli said. “You know you’re impressive when you’re faster than most of our boys.”
That extra motivation may have helped Jackson complete her ascent to the No. 1 spot among Maine sprinters.
She earned her first individual state title when she won the 400 at the 2012 outdoor championships. This year, she swept the sprints indoors and outdoors.
All for one …
Jackson learned to love track and field. She not only enjoyed tremendous personal success, but could share her accomplishments with her teammates.
“They’re all great people,” said Jackson, who was pleased how the PVC season ended.
“To hold that runner-up plaque, that experience, that makes me really proud of our team and shows how good of a team we have this year,” she said.
Jackson also played four seasons of soccer at Brewer, earning all-conference honors as a senior. However, she prefers track because it gives her success or failure is proportional to the effort expended.
“I can control everything that happens,” Jackson said. “When I work hard in practice, it’s going to benefit me, it’s going to make me better and I’m going to excel.”
The next challenge
Jackson will continue her track and field career at West Virginia Wesleyan University, a Division II program, which is giving her a full athletic scholarship.
She considered both the University of Maine and New Hampshire, but was comfortable with the coach, team members and surroundings in Virginia.
“It’s nice to feel wanted,” said Jackson whose coach, Jesse Skiles, drove to Maine to meet her before she committed. “I’ve always wanted to go away, and I went to visit and that kind of sealed the deal.”
She will encounter significant competition at WVWU, but is confident being part of a close-knit team will enable her to continue to excel in the sport she loves.