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Lightning Bolts snap back

Motherhood distracted the coach for a year - she even forgot a meet. But now the club boasts nine state champions and has more members than ever.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Last year was unusual for the Lightning Bolts track club.

For the first time anyone could clearly remember, the Bolts didn't send anyone to the summer's national Junior Olympics meets.

Garlynn Boyd, the club's coach, founder and all-around driving force, had other things on her mind.

Boyd's son, Ashton Taylor, was born March 23, 1999. And as new babies will do -- this one weighed 10 pounds, 3 ounces -- Ashton took his mother in directions other than track.

"I wasn't there mentally; I wasn't there physically," Boyd said, referring to the club's activity. She said she actually forgot about a qualifier meet for the nationals and had to scramble to get her youngsters in it.

"I'd never forgotten a track meet," she said.

But this year, Boyd is back, and Ashton is right there with her, attending daily practices at Gibbs High School.

At 15 months old, Ashton is 2 feet, 83/4 inches tall and weighs 23 pounds. While Mom, in her typical stern fashion, yells orders to her team, he toddles at a good pace, mounts the bleachers and like any budding track athlete, stays on the move.

"This has been the most wonderful 15 months of my life. He climbs, he runs, he jumps -- he's been a godsend," Boyd said.

Meanwhile, the Lightning Bolts are back on track -- in every sense.

The team has 134 members, the most since Boyd founded the club in 1991, and the most of any of St. Petersburg's three youth track clubs.

It has 12 volunteer assistant coaches.

It won the team championship at this year's Bay Area Track and Field Classic at the University of South Florida.

And it qualified 52 youngsters for the AAU National Junior Olympics in Orlando starting July 31.

The Lightning Bolts have a current budget of about $50,000, Boyd said, which pays for transportation and lodging when the team travels to meets. The club has received support from the Childs Park Community Change for Youth Development program, Weed and Seed, and Front Porch, a state-sponsored community revitalization effort.

The team also is partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast, Boyd said.

Known simply as "G" throughout the track community, Boyd was a recreation aide at Wildwood Community Center when she got the idea to organize a track club.

"The kids were running everywhere," said the former state shot put champion, a 1983 Dixie Hollins graduate. "I thought there had to be some way I could harness that energy."

Boyd said she knew nothing about organizing a track club and called on Jose Rodriguez of the Florida Athletics Congress for help.

Since then, she has coached some of the area's most talented track athletes.

One of them was Julia O'Neal of Bradenton Southeast High School. During 1993, O'Neal lived with her mentor. Boyd still wears O'Neal's blue championship ring from the 1993 state meet, when O'Neal won the 200-meter race.

O'Neal had a world-best 55-meter dash time during this past winter's indoor season, Boyd said.

Meanwhile, a batch of young potential stars are on this year's Bolts roster, Boyd said, pointing to nine state champions among her national meet qualifiers and an equal number of second-place finishers.

"When I started (the club), I didn't know how long I was going to be in it," Boyd said. "God has blessed me year after year with the kids and parents and the funding."

For information about the Lightning Bolts track club, call 895-8202.

Last in a series of articles about St. Petersburg's youth track clubs

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