CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Taylor Freeland has been twirling since the third grade, but a weekend of tragedy almost derailed her shot at becoming Miss Kanawha Majorette.
She was in a car accident Saturday that resulted in whiplash. Her uncle died this weekend from a stroke after also being in a car accident recently. And her boyfriend shipped off Sunday to Marine basic training at Parris Island, S.C.
"Twirling helped me not focus on it," Taylor said Tuesday night from the University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field.
"If I didn't twirl, I would just be sitting around thinking about it 24-7," she said.
That focus helped the George Washington High School senior win the majorette competition Tuesday night at the 66th annual Daily Mail Kanawha County Majorette and Band Festival.
She edged out Haley Ryan of Herbert Hoover High School - whose twin sister, Heather, won the event last year - and last year's runner-up, Baily Turner of South Charleston High School.
Taylor's parents, Misty and Bill Freeland, and her 13-year-old sister, Olivia, said it's been a very trying week for the family. But with the four to five hours Taylor devotes daily to practice in the family's front yard, Bill said the family would get up this morning proud regardless of the result.
"I've never met someone so determined and dedicated to her sport," her mother said.
After coming to the festival every year since the sixth grade, Taylor said winning the majorette title is a "dream come true."
She also has competed in national twirling events and plans to try out for the spot with the Marshall University Marching Thunder.
Taylor and fellow GW twirler Lexie White helped their band earn top honors in the general effect category. The Patriots also placed first in AAA band playing and marching, snapping their fingers and play fighting to tunes from the musical "West Side Story."
But it was not enough to unseat perennial powerhouse Capital High School as the festival grand champion. The Cougars nabbed first places in the color guard and percussion categories in addition to second place in both band playing and marching.
But Director Bobby Jenks didn't think the school's ninth straight overall title was in the bag.