Provo • The tiny southwestern Utah town of Enterprise (pop: 1,711) is known for its annual Corn Fest, raising some of the best hay, corn and kids — according to its website — and being the nearest community to Mountain Meadows and the Old Spanish Trail.
It will now also be known for producing the fastest female sprinter in state history.
Meet BYU freshman Jaslyn Gardner, a humble, soft-spoken speedster who recently broke a 22-year-old school record in the 100-meter dash. Gardner ran the 100 in 11.38 seconds at the Robison Invitational on campus last month, shattering her personal record and edging the school record of 11.44 seconds set by American Fork’s Windy Jorgensen in 1997.
“I came across the finish line and looked up at the big screen on the scoreboard and saw my time and was like, ‘whoa, did I just run that?’” Gardner said. “I was shocked, because it was three-tenths faster than my [personal record] of 11.69. At first, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Gardner also ran a 23.50 in the 200 meter preliminaries, the third-fastest time in BYU history in that event. The next day, Jorgensen showed up to congratulate Gardner, get some pictures, and encourage her to break more records.
“That was pretty cool, meeting the woman whose record I just broke,” Gardner said.
A few days later, Gardner participated in the tradition of climbing a ladder in Smith Fieldhouse to remove Jorgensen’s name from the record-holders wall and replace it with her own.
“That was also quite the thrill,” she said. “Another cool moment and a good memory I will always have.”
Gardner and her teammates left Tuesday for the NCAA Division I Track & Field West Preliminaries in Sacramento, Calif. BYU qualified 58 entries — 34 men’s entries, 24 women’s entries — for the second year in a row to match a program high.
Competition begins Thursday and runs through Saturday; Gardner is seeded No. 20 in the 100 and No. 35 in the 200 and has the goal of making it to nationals June 5-8 in Austin, Texas. She also competes in the long jump for BYU but didn’t qualify for regionals in that event.
“I am just really happy that I had finally gotten 11.3 [seconds], even though that wasn’t my goal for this year,” she said. “That means next year I should be even better. That’s the goal, to just get better.”
An early prodigy
Jaslyn and her twin brother, Jaylon, were adopted from the Memphis area when they were about three months old by Kurt and Ramona Gardner, a building inspector and entrepreneurial mother living well off the beaten path in Enterprise, a 45-minute drive north of St. George. There were three other African-American children growing up in the small town who were also adopted, she said, and all five were accepted, loved and supported.
“I loved growing up in a small town. It was fun. It’s a place where everyone really knows everyone,” Jaslyn said. “For Enterprise, that’s not just a saying. It’s true. There were only 56 kids in my graduating class, and I knew everybody. I knew everybody in the grade below me and the grade below that, and a couple grades above me. I knew everybody.”
And everybody in town knew about the girl with the dogged determination who could run faster than the wind and jump higher than the summer corn stalks. She says her grandfather began telling people when she was 3 years old that she had something special in her.
ABOUT JASLYN GARDNER
• Ran the 100 meters in 11.38 seconds at the Robison Invitational to break Windy Jorgensen’s 22-year-old school record of 11.44 seconds
• Ran the third-fastest time in school history in the 200 meters, clocking in at 23.50 seconds
• Competed for Enterprise High and won four consecutive 2A state titles in the 100 and 200 (2015-2018) and posted the second-best long jump in state prep history (19 feet, 2.25 inches)
But Jaslyn wasn’t always the fierce competitor she is now. Ramona Gardner says in Jaslyn’s first race at the elementary school, when she was 9 or 10, she was way in front when she suddenly slowed down with the finish line in sight and let someone else win.
Afterward, she said she lost on purpose because she didn’t want to travel to St. George and compete against girls who might be faster. Her parents coaxed her into going to the “big city” anyway and compete in the long jump, which she won.
It was there that they eventually signed on with a track coach, Justin Redfearn, who quickly realized Jaslyn’s potential and began taking her to Hershey’s Track and Field meets throughout the state and country. The Gardners routinely drove their daughter to St. George to get specialized instruction.
“My parents made great sacrifices for me,” Jaslyn said.
Redfearn, now Snow Canyon High’s track coach, “is a big reason why Jaslyn has done so well,” Ramona Gardner said.
Small high school, big star
As can be imagined, track and field isn’t a huge sport at Enterprise High, a 2A school more known for producing strong basketball, baseball and softball teams. But Jaslyn changed that, and began winning state 2A titles in the 100, 200 and long jump with times and lengths that would have won gold medals in any classifications in Utah.
She won four consecutive 2A championships in the 100 and 200 and posted the second-best long jump in state history, 19 feet and 2.25 inches, before her spectacular prep career was over.
College recruiters noticed, despite Enterprise’s remoteness.
Gardner drew interest from schools as far away as Miami and Yale, but wanted to stay reasonably close to home so her parents and twin brother could attend as many meets as possible. She whittled her choices to BYU and Weber State before choosing the Cougars, partly because BYU had a sprint coach in Steph Perkins with a reputation for improving times and getting the most out of her athletes.
“BYU was putting in the most effort recruiting me, and then they gave me the best offer,” Gardner said. “I thought, ‘they go to big meets, they’re always ranked highly in the nation, and I will have the opportunity to improve and get better.' So yeah, it was an easy choice.”
Perkins said when she recruited Gardner, she asked the small-town star what she wanted in a college opportunity, and Gardner said she wanted to race against the best of the best.
“That’s when I knew she could do some great things at BYU,” Perkins said.
Gardner is majoring in exercise and wellness and would like to get her master’s degree before she leaves college for the professional ranks. She’s also an accomplished singer, having performed the national anthem and other songs with her brother, who is currently on a church mission in Brazil. Jaylon Gardner played sports in high school, but wants to become a pilot when he returns.
At Enterprise, Jaslyn was also one of the top volleyball players in 2A and could have played that sport in college if she had wanted to, her mother said.
Having already reached her goal of getting the school record in the 100, she would like to add the 200 and long jump to that list.
She thinks she can go even faster in the 100, setting the goal of 11.1 seconds in that event.
Beyond college, she’s like a lot of other track and field athletes. She would like to make the U.S. Olympic team.
“My next goal is to make it to nationals [in college] and see what I can do there,” she said. “After that, try to make the U.S. team for the world championships, if possible. That would be a cool experience, to be part of Team USA. That could take years, but it would definitely be worth it if I could do that.”