It all started when she was 5. Taylor Sanders was a restless little girl looking for exercise, so her father brought her out for a jog through the park, thinking that after a few minutes she'd tire out and quit. But when Denis Sanders looked down after the one-mile mark to see his child smiling from ear to ear, he realized he would no longer run solo.
Taylor, a 12-year-old seventh-grader from Immaculate Conception in Jackson, says she loves every minute of a sport she discovered as a toddler. Now she's gone from running simple one-mile jogs to competitive half-marathons.
She won her first one-mile race in 1996, and at 10 she started participating in local 5K races. She hasn't slowed down since then, placing first in her age division in 50 out of her 57 races with times usually under 22 minutes. Of those races, she was the top overall female runner eight times.
On top of that, she earned the 2001 Female Road Runner of the Year Award from the Cape Girardeau Road Runners.
Recently she participated in the City of Roses Half-Marathon and finished third in the 19-and-under category with a time of 2 hours, 23 minutes.
But Taylor didn't think of the 13.1-mile race as very tough.
"The first few miles were hard," she said, "but after that it came easy."
She finished the race holding her dad's hand, but that was only because "it was his birthday, so I couldn't leave him behind," she joked.
Taylor trains twice a week, running two to three miles around the neighborhood with Denis, who says the tide has turned since Taylor started running with him seven years ago.
"After she became interested in running, I used to have to motivate her to come out and jog with me," said Denis, "but now it's the other way around. She's the one dragging me out, and she's the one waiting for me at the finish line."
To make it through 20 races a year, Taylor finds many motives to keep her moving.
"Just going out and doing it makes me feel good," Sanders said. "It makes me feel like I've accomplished something. Sometimes I don't want to get up and go, but it pays off."
The exercise has also brought her closer to her father.
"Running has really strengthened my relationship with my dad," she said, "because he's always there to push me to get me through it."
When she's not running circles around the neighborhood, Sanders expends her athletic ability playing volleyball, basketball "and just about any other sport," she said.
Sanders plans to attend Notre Dame Regional High School and be part of the cross country and track teams, run a few more half-marathons, and ultimately run a marathon to cap off her career.
"In high school, I want to go to state as a freshman and finish in the top three," Sanders said. "After that, I want to follow in my dad's footsteps and just keep running."