Flanked by her parents, Connie Bailey and James Bailey, Polk County senior Jessica Bailey celebrated Wednesday her decision to run cross country at Salem College. Also present, back row from left, were: Standing: Polk County assistant principal and athletic director Brandon Schweitzer, Polk County head coach Alan Peoples, Polk County assistant coach Jenny Wolfe and principal Mary Feagan.

Throughout the first two years of high school cross country career, Jessica Bailey hated running.

Which, obviously, wasn’t a good thing.

But Bailey’s times began to improve during her junior season and so did her outlook about the sport. She finished her Polk County career as a four-year member of the Wolverine cross country and track teams.

And she plans to do more running in the future.

Bailey has accepted an invitation to join the cross country program at Salem College in Winston-Salem. She celebrated that decision Wednesday during a ceremony in the school library.

“I feel great,” Bailey said about her decision to run at Salem, where she plans to pursue a biology or pre-med degree. “I like that they have a small community and the campus as a whole.”

The Division III Spirits are members of the Great South Athletic Conference. Salem placed two runners on last year’s all-conference squad.

A beaming Polk County head coach Alan Peoples said he couldn’t be happier for Bailey/

“She has come as far as anyone I’ve ever coached,” Peoples said. “She’s not the physically strongest, but she does not quit. I’ve seen her cross a finish line crying, but she never quits.

“When she gets there, her muscles will continue to develop as they work on weights, and she’ll get faster. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her get into the low 20s (minutes for a 5k race).”

Bailey is just happy to be continuing to run – which is something she wouldn’t have said a few years ago.

“When I started my freshman year, I didn’t like it,” she said. “But my times started getting better and I started enjoying it.”