CHIPLEY - 11-year-old Kinsleigh Hunter is not just a rising 5th grader at Kate M. Smith Elementary School. She is also a rising track and field star who recently topped the list of 100 meter and 200 meter competitors at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Region 9 Qualifier in Tallahassee, earning a spot in the AAU Junior Olympics in Detroit, Michigan.

Hunter is believed to be the first Washington County resident to ever earn a spot in the event, which is the largest national multi-sport event for youth in the U.S., drawing roughly 15,000 athletes each year.

"I'm excited to be representing Florida and Washington County," said Hunter. "I hope to one day go even farther and compete in the Olympics."

Like the Olympics, the Junior Olympics will award gold, silver, and bronze medals to athletes who place first, second, and third and will kick off with the Celebration of Athletes, which is similar to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. But unlike most Olympic athletes, Hunter has only competed in her chosen sports for a few months.

"Her coaches at KMS told me she was very talented and encouraged us to find a way to develop her natural ability," said Hunter's mother, Shanae Boston. "I did the research and learned she could compete with the AAU without being attached to a team."

Hunter soon began running daily drills and stretches and training with Port St. Joe coach Keion McNair and Blountstown coach Quatarious Anderson, both who volunteer their time to help hone Hunter's skill.

While many athletes adhere to superstitious routines in hopes of achieving success, Hunter says she only sticks to one race ritual.

"My routine isn't before the race but after," she said. "Win or lose, I breathe a sigh of relief and thank God for what he has done to let me get this far."

Hunter is preparing for the Junior Olympics, which will be held July 29-August 5 at Eastern Michigan University - by working to break her personal best times of 12.9 in the 100-meter and 27.01 in the 200 meter.

"I would like to get those times down to about 11 and 26," Hunter said. "I hope I can compete in the Olympics one day."

As she begins her journey to become a Junior Olympic veteran, she is in good company. Other elite athletes who have participated in the AAU Track and Field program include Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help offset the expense of Hunter's Junior Olympics travel. As of Monday morning, the site had raised $1,090 of its $3,500 goal. Anyone interested in donating to Hunter's journey may do so by visiting Donations may also be made directly by contacting Shanae Boston at 850-866-1777.

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