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Right on Track Franklin runner sets her sights on the Olympics

This month’s cover model exceeds the typical achievements of a high school athlete.

Nyjari McNeil is one of the best young track stars in the country, ranked No. 2 in both Maryland and the U.S. She holds 13 state championship titles and 16 medals. Her relay team won gold in the 2014 Junior Olympics, where she also placed third in one of her signature events, the 800-meter race. At the Summer 2017 New Balance Nationals, Nyjari, a Franklin High School senior, took home second place in the 400-meter race.

When asked to talk about her achievements on the track, Nyjari chuckles, noting there were so many she didn’t know where to begin or what to include. Let’s start with this: running track is in her blood.

This superstar started her career at the young age of six, taking after her then 11-year-old sister, Najatee, who also had her own career on the track as a hurdler, and her mother, Tonya McNeil, who was a hurdler in her younger days and then took her talents to coaching in her athletic retirement. Nyjari recalls attending practices with her mom and sister, running around the track for fun with friends until eventually the coaches decided to put her on the team.

Nyjari’s father, Walter McNeil, is also an athlete. While he was not a track star like the three women in his family, Nyjari says he played just about every other sport as a student, and in his free time as a dad, went on training runs with her.

Nyjari started her more serious career in 2009, when she joined the Pikesville Cheetahs summer track team. In 2010, she graduated to the Baltimore City Track Club for three summers, then was off to Owings Mills Track Club for the 2013 and 2014 summers. In the fall of 2014, she was able to begin her year-round career at Franklin High School once she was enrolled as a student.

By then, Najatee had gone to Brown University on a track scholarship and competed for the school for two years. Nyjari heads to the west coast this fall to attend San Diego State University on a fully funded scholarship for track and field. Alrick Munroe, one of her coaches there, won’t be a stranger; before he moved to San Diego five years ago, he coached Nyjari for nine years. This was a deciding factor for Nyjari when she considered where to take her talents. He has a fully fleshed out plan for her, hopefully guiding her straight to Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“I like the competitiveness and I like having goals to achieve… There’s always something for me to strive for whether it’s a title, a personal best, or qualification for nationals,” Nyjari says.

Nyjari plans to continue to include her family in her track career, as they have played a huge in it already and are the main component in her pre-race ritual. Before each event, mom gives her a kiss on each cheek, she and dad do a secret handshake, Nyjari and Najatee high-five, and if grandma is there, she’ll shoot Nyjari a thumbs-up.

She hopes to study kinesiology at SDSU and pave the path for her post-retirement career, in which she hopes to be either a physical therapist or a chiropractor, a career choice inspired by her own chiropractor, who has been a mentor to her.

And, naturally, Nyjari wants to work with athletes.



About Rebecca Cohen

Baltimore's Child Staff

One comment

  1. I teach her anatomy and I taught her biology too! What a wonderful student/person/athlete ___________ (fill in blank!) I wish her the best as she heads to SDSU!

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