Francis Scott Key senior Sarah Pernell is chasing three dreams.
Long-term, Pernell said she aspires to be a doctor and major in pre-med. It’s been on her mind since before high school.
“I have wanted to be a neurosurgeon since middle school,” said Pernell, who carries a 4.4 weighted grade-point average. “I think the brain is interesting and the whole nervous system. And I want to help people.”
In the near future, she wants to compete in track in college, and she’s making great progress toward that goal.
Pernell says she’s been offered a scholarship to Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg and has been aggressively recruited by Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. A Class 1A indoor track state championship in the 55-meter hurdles could help her get more college offers.
And she’s dead set on winning one.
It the thing that would make her high school career complete, Pernell said.
“I have county and regional championships,” she said of her combined eight gold medals. “But I want to add some state titles. This is my last year of high school and I definitely want to make everything count. I want to run in college and I want to get a scholarship to do so — especially for what I want to major in.”
Pernell has the last two county meet golds in the 55 hurdles, and the 100 hurdles outdoor county crown in 2016. She also won triple jump titles at the 2017 county and Class 2A West outdoor meets.
Eagles track coach Juan Cortez said he feels she has a legitimate shot of winning an indoor state title in the 55 hurdles.
“Her times have dropped pretty significantly,” the coach said. “She never broke nine seconds until the Dickinson Invitational. It was a very competitive meet, so it brought out the best in her.”
The 5-foot-6 Pernell finished second at the Dickinson meet Dec. 16 in the 55 hurdles, breaking her own school record by running a blazing 8.81 — also good for a personal record. Lackey’s Taylor Williams (8.7) is only other competitor from 1A school to run a faster time this winter.
Pernell also placed fifth in the long jump (15 feet, 9 inches) at Dickinson, an event that usually takes place in the spring. Six days later, Pernell dominated the field at the Frostbite Invite in Landover, winning the the long jump (15-9), triple jump (34-0), and the 55 hurdles (8.9).
“In an invitational like that, a lot of kids are just trying to prepare for the season,” said Jonathan Pernell, Sarah’s father and FSK’s girls outdoor track coach. "She proved in that meet she’s ready to compete at the state level.”
Her leap in the triple jump ranks in the state behind only Randallstown’s Amiya Anoma (35-11) in Class 1A.
The long and triple jumps aren’t contested in championship meets during the winter, however, so Pernell’s lone chance at an indoor state crown lies with the 55 hurdles.
Cortez said Pernell’s offseason training has elevated her performance and allowed her to get off to strong start this season.
“I am just thrilled that she is taking indoor very seriously because as a freshman and sophomore she played basketball,” the coach said. “This year, she is one of our captains, she’s been very responsible and has been working really hard.”
Pernell worked out four days a week this summer and three days a week in the fall, including training at McDonogh School in Owings Mills with Clayton Johnson, a coach who specialized in jumping events. She often lifted weights and worked on her events with her father, and ran in his track club, the Maryland Wings.
“I was more focused,” said Pernell, who has competed in track for nine years and participated in her three events in the AAU Nationals in Detroit last summer. “I made sure every workout counted.”
Added Jonathan Pernell: “I can’t imagine an athlete putting in more time in the summer than she did.”