Interview: Jais Ward Returns to South Carolina

What made you come back to South Carolina?
First off, my coaches at IMG left to persue better opportunities for them to grow and have their individual needs met. So, I thought to myself, maybe I should too. I felt as though school would not be the same without them because they truly made the experience of living away from home for three years worth it. After injury and two rounds of covid, I felt like this was the perfect time to come home and have a sense of a fresh start while I get back to feeling the racing stimulus and healing my body back to strength. I now find myself in a wonderful situation at Ben Lippen with Coach David Taylor, Coach Fran Ricks, and my grandmother Catherine Lempesis, forming an amazing coaching team for me as well as all of my teammates.

When did you come back?
I came back this year, so going into this summer I was planning on leaving for IMG for the school year on July 29 to then spend three weeks at high altitude training with my team. Then, about two weeks before I would leave is when I found out about the departure of my coaches from IMG, so I made the choice not to go back. I've been home since the end of the school year, however.

How was your time at IMG?
I am so glad that I attended IMG for eighth through tenth grade. I made lifelong friends and I continue to talk to them everyday. I learned and developed a new level of independence and managing a rigorous academic schedule with my training. IMG shaped me into the person I am and I feel as though when I leave for college in two years, I will be more prepared than most. I could never ask for a better way to have lived these past three years of my life, but now I look to the future and the goals I have set in front of me.

How do you feel about the competition here compared to Florida?
I am pretty comfortable with the competition here, as I know there are girls that share my ability level and I look forward to competing against some familiar faces again. Florida does have a more competitive culture in distance running and track and field in general, so it is hard to compare the two. I do also feel that in Florida I was able to attend more national caliber meets with my team and I am optimistic I will have that opportunity this year as well.

How do the running courses in South Carolina differ from those in Florida? What is your overall favorite course and why?
The courses in South Carolina do definitely contain more hills than those in Florida, even though some of the locations where I have competed are not know to be super hilly areas. The biggest similarity is the courses that run around school campuses because they have the same type of terrain. But to be honest, I have not run enough courses in South Carolina as a high schooler to make that comparison as well.

Being a junior, do you plan on finishing your high school career in South Carolina?
Yes, that would be the smartest and most practical plan. I will stay here to keep that sense of familiarity as I go into senior year and look to applying to colleges. I feel as though I would like to stay with my family during that process to be around for the last bit of time I can before I move away from home again. It would also help to keep down the stresses of senior year as a student athlete.

What goals do you plan on achieving this year?
I would just like to run the times I have set for myself to reach since freshman year and finish my high school years successfully and with no regrets. I would really like to stay healthy as well and maintain my strength. My goal is to make this year the smartest and most strategic when it comes to getting enough rest, implementing the right recovery routine, and balancing school and other interests I have outside of running.

What effect does your Grandmother have on you when it comes to running and life?
My grandma is a very structure oriented individual, so I just listen to what she tells me to do as I trust and follow the schedule she and my other coaches have set for me. I'm actually laughing as I write this because my mom and I joke about how she can be a lot but it's just the work ethic she expects most people to have. So, one has to be a mentally tough runner and show their efforts towards bettering themselves for my grandma to be super interested in helping them as well. It's like if they respect her, she respects them. That being said, having her around is such a nice, refreshing, and fun feeling as I have that personal connection with her. She really knows me as an athlete and as a person so that dictates how she approaches my training and how it affects her attitude. While we remain serious, we also love to goof around when we are together so it brings that enjoyable aspect to life back home.

How was your training over the summer?
My training this past summer was really great. I had taken a break after my short outdoor track season, but then as I trained after that break I spent time focusing on building back my mileage while staying careful. I have been building my base as well, which is very crucial for achieving the goals I would like to entering cross country season.

Did you go on any trips over the summer?
I went to Eugene, Oregon for the Outdoor Nationals and competed in the Championship DMR with my team at IMG. I also ran the emerging elite 800. Then, I went to Barbados for ten days, which is where my previous roommate is from, so I enjoyed spending time with her friends and family creating new bonds that I'll have for the rest of my life. Those would have to be my biggest two trips, while the other ones remained within the Carolinas.

What do you prefer to do when you aren't training? 
I have actually struggled with finding time to do what I have interests in since being at IMG. I have always been into poetry, so I've enjoyed writing my poems as an outlet and reading some poetry as well. Now that I am home, I have already started to draw and expand my artistic abilities, that is if I have any. I got permission from my older brother to use his bass, which has been in storage while he's overseas, so I would like to learn how to play that instrument. I also love spending time with friends and family, like most people do. I really also love just finding new music to listen to.

Whats your motivation for this season?
My motivation is to be fierce and have that mamba mentality when competing. I have been through a lot of setbacks and challenges and I would like to prove that I have come out of them stronger. That's what will keep me propelling forward as long as I keep those goals in mind.

How does it feel to be back in South Carolina? 
I love being home a lot as I have a different sense of freedom whether it be driving myself around, or having the choice of what higher meets I can attend when traveling with my family. My weekends I can go out and do things like seeing family or going out with my friends. I can also do more after races with no specific time barrier which is nice. Something huge is the fact that I don't have to depend on other people to get me places.

Anything else? 
One of my favorite quotes relating to running is "If you don't think you can, you are right". I like it because athletes like myself who have a strong desire to take their athletics to the next level know how much your mentality can reflect into performance. So, if you go into competing with a negative mindset, it will prove detrimental to how well you do. Thank you!